What You Rescue – You Make Weak

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Whenever we rescue someone from an opportunity for growth, we make that person weak. This is the most harmful thing we can do to another person. We instill in them a belief they “can’t.”

Rule of Empowerment:

“Don’t do for your children anything they can do for themselves.  Don’t say anything they already know.”

Rudolf Dreikurs, Author, Children the Challenge

In order for your children to live to highest potential, each has four core needs; to feel empowered, lovable, connected and contributing. They do not feel these when you coax, advise, overcompensate, rescue, or enable them. Why does this matter? A lack of any of these feelings results in a weak sense of belonging and significance, leading to discouragement and poor behavior, including under-performance.  In order for the four core needs to be met, a good parent or teacher must be skilled in transferring responsibility effectively in equal measure with freedom, and ensure social interest; sensitivity and responsiveness to the effect one has upon others and each child’s obligations for community living and mutual respect.

No matter who you parent or teach, it is critical to recognize destructive results when you neglect any of the four core needs. Common but often unrecognized ways we do so are by pampering, overprotecting, and spoiling.  I’m not referring to when we provide love, care, and appreciation or legitimate and reasonable support.  It’s when we rescue, shield and exempt others from fulfilling responsibilities and taking their rightful place in caring for others or themselves, without reasonable cause.  To do so can be as harmful as using harshness, punishment and controlling methods in an attempt to create good citizens.

Enabling is getting between a child’s life experiences to protect them when it’s not necessary or helpful. The rule of thumb is, “Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves and don’t say anything they already know.”

In your efforts to be a great parent or teacher, one of the most important skills you can learn is empowerment.

Empowerment is turning responsibility and control over to children as soon as possible. This is communicated verbally and non-verbally.  One of the exercises I use in my life gives each of my children an experience of how influential the choice between empowering and enabling.  I offer it to you in imagination here.

Imagine you are in one of two groups of parents.  I explain a volunteer is going to role-play with you in which a child has not been doing his chores. Group One is asked to offer enabling responses for about 60-90 seconds, while others simply listen.  Imagine you may be:  1. Offering to do what the child can do without your help 2. Saying anything the child already knows 3. Over-protecting and rescuing the child 4. Lying for the child 5. Punishing and controlling the child 6. Living in denial about what’s going on 7. Fixing the situation yourself 8. Bailing the child out 9. Neglecting the child 10. Advising and coaxing the child 11. Making excuses for the child 12. Hovering and warning the child as though there is danger everywhere.

The following questions are used to process with the child’s experience:  “How were you feeling?  What decisions were you making about the your parent or teacher? What decisions were you making about yourself? What were you deciding to do?” The following questions are used to process with the parents or teachers:  “How were you feeling? What decisions were you making about this child? What decisions are you making about yourself?”

Next, empowering responses are offered from Group Two.  Imagine you may be:  1. Listening and giving emotional support to the child 2. Validating the child without fixing or discounting 3. Teaching the child life skills 4. Working on issues at family meetings 5. Letting go (without abandoning) the child 6. Deciding what you will do with respect and firmness. 7. Sticking to the issue 8. Asking questions (especially what and how questions) such as “What will you do?” “How will you get your chores done?” 9. Engaging in a joint problem-solving process (giving the child the lead wherever possible) 9. Sharing what you think, how you feel, and what you want (without lecturing, moralizing, insisting on agreement, or demanding the child give you what you want) 10. Making positive assertions “I know you’ll have fun”, “You can do it”, “You know how to do this.”

I challenge you to set aside time to imagine yourself in each role and reflect upon your likely answers.  Now consider the role of Encouragement; cultivating courage within and authentic, caring use of power.  To rob a child of courage is to cripple him or her.  If you would like to learn how to be firm and respectful, to develop responsible children of all ages and preserve their dignity and self-esteem, while empowering them without spoiling or crippling them, call us today.  You might also consider taking our Redirecting Negative Behavior training program. It helped me with my 5 children and their children. I’m here to help and I commit to make sure you are successful in achieving your family or school goals.

Published this revised version in fall 2023 for parents, after being initially published nationally in the column Emotional Intelligence in The Women’s Journal, June 2011.

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