From “No Rescue” Parenting toward “No Need to Rescue” Parenting

I was avoiding work by looking at my facebook feed when I saw a link to another parenting article. I clicked, I read, and I sighed. I felt sad as both a teacher and parent.

There is a new parenting paradigm out there meant to address helicopter parenting. It is called “no rescue parenting.” The writer of the original blog post that coined the phrase was featured on a segment of the Today Show and received a lot of support.

At its core, no rescue parenting seems to make sense. If a kid forgets something, rather than rushing in to save them from consequences or discomfort, the parent stays home. Forget your cello at home and today is band practice? Too bad, too sad. Forget a notebook, oh well, next time – you will remember.

The idea is to promote self-sufficiency and responsibility in kids who perennially forget their stuff. This tactic, the Mom explained, was not for the kid who is generally responsible and forgets his stuff once a year. It is for the kid who always seems to leave his notebook on the counter when the bus comes.

The “no-rescue” ideal seems to have the full support of King Solomon in Proverbs. There he decries the character trait of “Atzlut” laziness which leads to poverty, illness and spiritual shallowness. The commentators, such as Rabbeinu Bechayei and the Mesilas Yesharim, write about how and why this character flaw undermines any growth a person can achieve. Atzlut, as described by commentators is allowing others to do for us what we can do for ourselves.

As parents and teachers, we don’t want to promote Atzlut. We shouldn’t do for our students or children what they could do for themselves. Removing all obstacles and allowing them to become lazy and forgetful will not make them happy or successful people in the long run.

It sounds good and the intentions are in the right place, but as a Mom and teacher of kids, I’m not sure it’s the best tactic. Why did I sigh when I read the article and watched the video clip? Because, maybe, and quite likely, that child who keeps forgetting his notebooks needs education and not judgment.

I’m sure you can think of the kid who we envision needs a little of that “no-rescue” mentality. He’s the one whose papers are crumpled at the bottom of his backpack, who needs to borrow a pencil at the start of every class and doesn’t hand in his homework assignments. Why shouldn’t a little tough love straighten him out?

If a kid doesn’t understand fractions and fails his tests, we wouldn’t judge him as being lazy. If a child who needs glasses can’t see the board, we don’t tell her to try harder. We teach them differently, and we give them the tools to be successful.

When kids are disorganized, they don’t know how to organize their stuff. What does “no-rescuing” do? It makes them anxious. It shames them. It reinforces the message that there is something wrong with them, that they are lazy and irresponsible.

What doesn’t “no rescuing” do? It doesn’t teach them how to do better. It doesn’t teach them what they did wrong. It doesn’t give them tools so that as adults they will meet deadlines, manage their paperwork and organize their stuff.

I had a student who did his homework and forgot to hand it in on a regular basis. He wanted good grades. He did his work at home. Somewhere in between home and school, he got distracted and forgot what he needed to do when he got to school.

Another student took his work sheets and unless I was standing next to him, would stuff them into the front pocket of his binder.
So what is the matter with these kids? Why are they being so irresponsible?

Many bright, capable children lack executive function skills. As described by the National Center for Learning Disability (NCLD), , they have trouble managing their time, their things, multitasking and remembering details.

What is a teacher or a parent to do with this kid who can be more frustrating than a child with an obvious learning difference? It is November, and he is still not writing his name on his paper! How many times have I announced to the class that all papers need to have your name on top! -5 points!

Kids with executive function disorders can be taught. It is just as much our responsibility to teach them these skills as how to read and write. Here are some strategies that work:

  1. Checklists – Anything that can be described sequentially can go on a checklist.Is getting out the door each morning a daily struggle? Work with your child to make a list of the steps. Don’t expect the child to remember it from day to day. He needs as much working memory available to remember where he keeps his socks. Better yet, label the sock drawer too. Forcing him to juggle everything in his memory will ensure least one thing will be forgotten at home. A written list saves on anxiety and time and breeds success.

    In school, come up with a checklist of the things that your student is forgetting often. Every student is different, and a personal checklist works better than a generalized one, according to Bonnie Glick, an educational consultant .

  2. Reinforce routines – Transitions require a lot of mental effort. Having routines helps all children relax and flow from one activity to another. Homework should be done at the same time and same place daily. Students should have a consistent place to write down their homework and assignments. Teachers should likewise write down the homework in the same place every day. How class begins and ends can be standardized to help students learn what is expected of them. While this takes away some of the creativity and spontaneity that we teachers enjoy, it is better for our students’ learning.
  3. Use color and other visuals – Think of color and visual imagery as a parallel to auditory instructions. Visuals can be referenced later while auditory information cannot. In the younger grades, the ELA folder and notebook should be the same color for every student in the class while Math should have its own color. If we expect our students to differentiate between vocabulary and content, ask them to use a different pen color or highlighter at the beginning of a section. Have a picture of an assignment with all the proper elements in the right place such as name, date and spacing for students to reference.
  4. Work with the other teachers in your school –There is a vertical curriculum for all subjects. A chumash teacher looks at the previous years’ expectations and methodology to plan this year’s curriculum. Executive function skills should be no different.In which grade do students learn how to use a planner? When do they learn how to use their binders? When do they learn how to plan for long term projects? Schools need curriculum for these soft skills as much as for the things that get the standardized tests.

    Building on previous teacher’s methodology means that students can develop new executive function skills in subsequent years. This is especially true if we are using strategies to streamline the classroom activities. A common occurrence for example is the third grader teacher using the yellow notebook for ELA while the fourth grade teacher uses it for math. Everyone ends up frustrated that the students are taking so long to find their notebooks. Organization systems are great but having to relearn them yearly is wasteful and stressful. Talking it over with other teachers helps make it easier on everyone.

  5. Ask, don’t tell – Verbal instructions can be long and daunting – “take out your science book, turn to page 35 and do problem 1-10.” This seemingly simple instruction has multiple parts that can get overwhelming. The student looks defiant when he doesn’t start when he really just feels stupid. Go over to the child and ask. “It’s science time – what do you need on your desk to do the assignment?” Reinforce the positive steps “Great, you got out your notebook and book, how will you do the classwork written on the board?” Let the child develop his own self-monitoring so he learns how to unpack your instructions and gain independence.

These strategies are just the tip of the iceberg of how we can help those disorganized, frustrating kids be the bright, capable students they are. When we give children the tools to overcome their weaknesses, we are getting rid of the anxiety and shame which can cripple them for life.

We are not rescuing our kids, we are building them. We are parenting using the “No Need to Rescue” Parenting system. We are setting up our kids to lead happier and more productive lives.

If you have a student or child who fits this profile, please take the time and read the many wonderful websites that outline strategies to help: