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Should Parents "Rescue" their Children From All Frustration?

User in New York, NY
Nov. 12, 2016

There is a new debate, really an old debate about "No Rescue Parenting" which brings up an interesting issue.  Should we "rescue" our children from all frustration.  Jordana Horn in her Today Parents post suggests that we shouldn't rescue our children from frustration because they do not learn how to deal with consequences.

The rule in child development is that some frustration promotes resilience, problem solving and the ability to cope with consequences.  This is all true.  However, too much of a good thing is no good.  Introducing frustration assumes that you have provided your children with a solid foundation of emotional predictability, stability and dependency.  This allows them to adjust for frustration. 

If a parent who has a sensitive child, misunderstands this one size fits all rule of "introduce frustration" then they miss the forest for the trees.  Sometimes rescuing your child is exactly the right thing, particularly if they do not feel steady, are struggling emotionally or are feeling fragile either because of circumstances or temperament. 

The "no rescue policy" assumes all children can make good use of the frustration when some in fact cannot.  The goal is to build inner resources that your child will take with them throughout life to cope with stress and less than perfect situations.  If for a variety of reasons, including a child's emotional sensitivity, they have not developed a core of security or stability, they may need more than a child who has internalized a secure feeling of independence.

Basically, the concept of helping your child to cope with the consequences of their actions is not mutually exclusive from rescuing them at times. If parents always rescue their children, they often are responding a a degree of guilt about their children not getting enough from them or about being a good enough mother.  However, if a parent takes a "no rescue" position frequently it is because they feel some resentment or discomfort with their children's dependency.

Each individual child has different needs, and each situation is unique.  This uniqueness requires evaluation and assessment of when your child can handle frustration and when they cannot.  There is no one size fits all rule regarding a parent helping or coming to the aid of their child.

Circumstances that may impact a child's ability to cope with the stress of frustration may include illness, trauma or loss of any kind including divorce, death in the family, moving, changing schools, conflict of any kind in the family including remarriage, birth of a sibling, taking a vacation or changing their physical environment.

Use your  judgment and sensitivity to respond to your child when they seem excessively dependent.  Often there is a good reason for their emotional needs.  That, however, does not mean you cannot help them to cope with difficulty when it occurs and encourage them to "try" to cope with frustration. The balance is one that both children and adults struggle with in relationships and it is part of growing up.




Erica Komisar is a veteran psychoanalyst and parent-coach who has been in private practice for 25 years. A graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Universities and The New York Freudian Society, Ms Komisar is a psychological consultant bringing parenting and work/life workshops to clinics, schools, corporations and childcare settings including The Garden House School, Goldman Sachs, Shearman and Sterling and SWFS Early Childhood Center. She lives is New York City with her husband, optometrist and social entrepreneur Dr. Jordan Kassalow, and their three teenage children. 

Pre-order her book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters and follow her on Twitter @EricaKomisarCSW

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