Parenting Role versus Rescuer Role with Children and Teens
A great question was presented to me regarding parents and their need to constantly protect and do things for their children. So, for example, if the child is feeling sad, the parent immediately wants to rush in and start rescuing their child.
In my opinion, a child needs the love and attention from their parent, especially in situations when they are feeling sad. The disconnect lies when the parent immediately tries to make them to make them feel happier. Unfortunately, all that does is dismiss what the child is really feeling and robs them of an opportunity to learn how to express themselves. Because we rush in and try to fix or rescue the problems, we fail to realize that might actually be creating the problem!
There are ways to adjust your role as a parent to stop the continuous rescuing routine and to help your children to become emotionally aware and sound.
Here are a few tips on how to help your child in a situation where you, as the parent, want to run in and rescue!
Ask your child to tell you what emotion they’re feeling. There are 5 basic emotions: Sadness, Happiness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Ask your child which one they are feeling the most in the present moment.
Your child can learn more about their emotions and regulation of their emotions with a therapist, however as a parent, you can also help reinforce and drive awareness of what your child is feeling. Children tend to either act out in an emotional outburst or bottle their emotions up. By asking them to label their emotion, they are immediately learning something about themselves and their emotions. This helps to normalize and validate their feeling state.
So as an example, your child may say “I’m mad” and you can say “Okay so you’re feeling mad, which is anger, right?” The child typically will agree with that statement. But what really has been done here is you’ve given your child a chance to label their feeling, and then receive a non-judgmental, non-rescuing, response from their parent.
Doing this opens them up to feel safer to talk about things with you because they feel that you get them, you hear them, and are listening to them. By you validating their feeling, you are creating connection.
Ask your child when they feel this emotion, what thoughts come along with it in their head. Gaining insight into their automatic thinking is also a huge step in the discovery process. If the child shares something with you about their negative thinking, allow them to share their story. Do not pass judgment on it, don’t offer to help. Just listen.
After your child has had a chance to share their story, say “I get that” and just pause. Then ask, “Is there anything else you’d like to share about that.” And just keep listening. If your child is hesitant to share, tell them “I get that its tough to talk about these things, and when you are ready, we can talk. We will go at your pace.” Do not force the conversation. Sometimes they may just say “I don’t know I just feel mad.” And that is okay too. Validate that for them by saying, “I understand you feel mad, and that’s ok.”
It also does not hurt to ask your child if they would like to talk to someone that can help them to gain skills that will help them feel better mentally. If they are interested in meeting with a therapist, go online and have them to pick who they want. Encourage and empower your child to find the person they feel they can connect with.
Allow your child to express themselves the way THEY want to. Once the child is ready to share their story with you, let them share it the way they want to. There are often times when a parent says, “Oh you shouldn’t say that” or “Oh you shouldn’t feel that way.” If you find yourself saying that, stop! When you are hurting or sad about something, would you want someone telling you that you “shouldn’t be feeling that way?” No! You want someone to listen, without judgment, and to listen with the same intent with which you want to be heard.
If your child says a “bad word” let it go. I’m not saying it’s a free for all here but let the one slip go. Don’t beat them up for saying a bad word because that will just disconnect you from your child. I am also a Christian Counselor and have had a hard time with language issues with teens, but I have learned to let that go, because if it takes that one bad word to help them to open up a door that gets them to talking more, so be it. Let them express themselves the way they want to, at their pace.
It is tough being a parent. There is no true playbook when it comes to dealing with these sorts of issues. What you do have though are caring and knowledgeable therapists out there that are willing to help. I strongly encourage parents to reach out to therapists and lay a solid foundation for their children when it comes to emotional regulation sooner than later.
You are the parent, not the counselor. Remember that! You cannot blur those roles because you could actually do more harm than good. I know this even for my own children. Yes, I have a lot of experience as a therapist, but that does not mean I am my child’s therapist. Why? Because my own emotions and expectations get in the way. My child might not be able to open up as freely with me about things as they would a therapist.
If anything, your role as a parent is to love your children, raise them well, and provide a path for them to discover what life is about. They will not be able to learn life lessons if you keep fixing and rescuing their problems.
What you end up doing is enabling them to become co-dependent on you instead of independent and competent. Learning how to be a parent versus the rescuer with your children is a very difficult skill. Because we do not want our children to experience pain, or fear, we rush in too soon and try to fix their problems rather than teaching them how to express themselves and resolve issues on their own.
Yes, parents are to train and guide their children, but rushing in to rescue them or fix their problems for them is actually doing a disservice to your child. These tips are not a cure for the problem, but a small behavior shift will open the door for evolution to happen.
The contents of this article is not medical advice, and we do encourage you to speak with a therapist or professional when it comes to parenting and emotional regulation skills for your children.