Are You A Rescue Parent?

By trying to protect children from failure now...you actually set them up for greater failure later.  Merrill Hutchinson

By trying to protect children from failure now...you actually set them up for greater failure later. Merrill Hutchinson

Earlier this year my daughter in law shared a video with me that showed her kids hiking with her on a wet sloppy trail.  At first, it looked like a great family adventure out in mother nature on a beautiful trail. Suddenly, our two-year-old grandson took off running up the trail. Before anyone could really react, he tripped and fell flat on his face.  Mud and water splattered and his entire face and belly were covered with mud. This was not a little stumble causing a fall to the knee. This was an all-out face-plant! The next thing you hear on the video is my daughter in law chuckling and saying, it’s all right, you’re fine.  When she finally caught up to him, he began to stand up and when he saw she was smiling, he began to laugh. She laughed right back at him and they continued up the trail.  

Now, maybe this shouldn’t even be a story worth referencing, but I believe it has merit.  After working at the elementary school level for over 20 years, I have met many parents that would handle this scenario in a completely different manner.  Just speculating, but I can imagine parents that would have yelled at their children as soon as they took off running. “Don’t run, you’re going to trip and fall!”  Or, after seeing their child fall, running in a panic as if their child just broke their neck. Or, maybe having a child on a leash just to prevent them from even having the opportunity to leave your side.  Or, the ultimate in protection, “No, we are not going to hike on a muddy trail. Someone could get hurt and it will be a muddy mess.” Which parent are you?

We love our daughter in law not just because she married our son.  We love them as parents to our grandchildren because we believe they are raising their children to be problem solvers.  They are growing up to be strong, courageous, adventurous, and most importantly, victors and not victims. On a daily basis, they allow their kids to take reasonable risks. As parents, they are teaching our grandchildren to celebrate the victories but also learn from the mistakes. 

No doubt, parenting can be difficult; wondering if you are doing and saying the right things.  Wondering if your discipline is effective and meaningful. Wondering if you are growing your kids to thrive and survive in a sometimes cruel world.  Wondering if you are giving your kids too much or too little. These may be real thoughts and fears, but here’s the important question I think you need to ask yourself.  What kind of adults do you want your children to grow to be? In my 20 years of working with parents, I more often than not get the same answer. “When my child is an adult, I want them to be happy, independent, well-adjusted, and feeling successful in their life.” AWESOME! Me TOO!

As parents, we understand we can’t guarantee our children a problem-free life.   In fact, there’s a better chance we could guarantee them a life with challenges and problems. None of us are guaranteed a problem-free life, but if we want our children to succeed in life and be well adjusted later, we must equip and teach them NOW how to navigate problems and failures.   I would suggest that attempting to remove all the problems, or solving the problems for your children, places them at incredible risk for a very tumultuous and unrewarding life. By trying to protect children from failure now...you actually set them up for greater failure later.

So, how can I help my child grow to be that adult that is happy, independent, well-adjusted, and feeling successful?  

  • Realize and understand that your child is not perfect and neither are you.

  • Don’t own your child’s mistakes or short-comings.  If they fail, allow them to fail. Don’t argue with the teachers, coaches, referees, or anyone else about something your child did wrong. When they mess up, look at the situation as an incredible teaching moment!

  • Never make excuses for your child and never tolerate excuses from your child.  Excuses are the first step to allowing your child to become a victim. “It’s not my fault” are words that should not be tolerated in your home. 

  • Limit the amount of time that you will allow your child to pout or feel sorry for themselves.  Yes, there will be emotion when a child suffers loss, rejection, or makes a mistake. That’s okay!  But please do not allow them to get stuck there. Once the emotions settle, train them to shift into problem-solving mode. Again, you do not solve the problem.  Encourage them by saying, “Okay, that didn’t go the way you wanted. What are you able to do about it now?” That’s empowerment!

  • Practice what you preach.  Allow yourself to make mistakes, and own them! When you’ve made a mistake let your children see that you admit the mistake and that you are able to work toward solving the problem. 

  • Encourage age-appropriate risk-taking and allow them to own the natural consequences of those risks.  “Yes, you can ride your bike and jump off your homemade ramp, but if you wreck, you need to understand you could get hurt.”  With that being said, if they wreck, you do not scream and yell, “I told you so!” Instead, we say something to the effect of.  Wow! That looks like it hurt. Are you okay? Alright, go clean up your wounds and get back on your bike!  

  • Encourage exploration and exposure to activities your children are good at and things they are not necessarily good at.  This is all part of the discovery process. They may find something they excel at that ultimately directs the pathway of their life.  Or, they may find something that they never want to do again, and they will have solid reasons for why they don’t want to do it. 

My parents were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but when I look back at what they gave my siblings and I, I am so grateful. I am most grateful that they taught us about putting our faith and trust in God in this difficult world. I am so grateful they taught us to be honest and hardworking and take responsibility for our actions and teaching us to take risk and trust that things will work out.  As I write this I hear my dad’s voice saying what he so often said to us; “Do something even if it’s wrong!”


None of us are guaranteed a problem-free life, but if we want our children to succeed in life and be well adjusted later, we must equip and teach them NOW how to navigate problems and failures.
— Merrill Hutchinson