The No Rescue Policy

Photo by Shlomit Wolf, via Unsplash

Photo by Shlomit Wolf, via Unsplash

By Amy McCready

Parents who continually rescue their kids from showing up at soccer practice with no cleats, turning in an English essay full of errors or arriving late to their babysitting gig unknowingly pave the way for an over-entitled lifestyle. Not only do kids get used to having life go perfectly their way but they also become accustomed to having all their battles fought for them and their dirty work done.

Kids who are frequently rescued learn that they can drop the ball and someone else will make it okay. With this lack of accountability, they have no reason to change their ways—to remember the permission slip (Mom will just drive it to school for them), set an alarm clock (Dad will wake them up) or keep track of their tiny toys (Mom will find it or buy me a new one). Rescuing becomes a vicious cycle, because each time a child is rescued, she is more likely to need this special treatment again in the future.

The No Rescue Policy, however, puts a stop to all that. Essentially, you’ll stop rescuing your kids from the consequences of their forgetfulness and misbehaviors. As part of a consequential environment, this policy teaches kids to take responsibility. What’s more, it empowers them to find solutions and make better decisions next time.

The No Rescue Policy tool is simple to use but can be agonizing as it plays out. Once the cycle of rescuing has been broken, however, your kids will be more capable and confident, and you’ll be less harried from rushing around to pick up art supplies for a forgotten project or dropping lunches off at school.

Put It to Use

To implement the No Rescue Policy in your house, you’ll first need to warn your kids with an announcement: “You’re really growing up, and you’re fully capable of managing things for yourself. From now on, we won’t be rescuing you when you forget things for school.” Then make sure they understand that that means no more rushing homework, gym shoes, musical instruments, lunches, permission slips or library books to school. Once you’ve tackled forgotten school items, move on to something else you rescue them from—such as running late for activities, breaking toys because they’re careless, etc.

Next ask your kids to come up with no rescue solutions for the times you’ve always rescued them before. Say “What ideas do you have for remembering everything you need for school every day?” Or “How can you make sure you make it to practice on time?” Listen to their ideas first and, if necessary, suggest your own—such as marking off a dry-erase checklist by the door, packing backpacks the night before, attaching a laminated list to the hockey bag, setting their own alarm clock, using labeled bins (with pictures or words) to store toys or creating a cubby space for their sports items.

Make sure any new systems and ideas are in place and that you’ve done a practice run—or two or three—before using the No Rescue Policy for the first time. Then, let your kids know when the rule is in effect. After this point, you won’t rescue them from anything they should be able to do or remember themselves.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you’re ready for the toughest part of the tool: doing nothing. When you find seven-year-old Abby’s lunch bag in the fridge (again!) long after the school bus has pulled away, resist the urge to drop it by her classroom on your way to work. She’ll go hungry once and be highly unlikely to leave it behind again anytime soon. And when fourteen-year-old Ben is still only half dressed in his uniform as practice is starting, don’t push, prod or drive one mile over the speed limit. He’ll arrive late and have to explain to the coach why but tomorrow he’ll be the one trying to herd you out the door. What’s more, they’ll both lose the sense of entitlement that comes from not taking responsibility and avoiding consequences.

Yes, it’s hard to watch your kids walk into difficult situations. And sometimes, knowing that other parents will rush the lunch to school or blame traffic (again) for the late baseball player is worse than the guilt you feel about not doing these things. It’s not easy to let your kids fail, but pretty soon you’ll see that the number of times you feel the need to rescue your kids will sharply decline, while your kids exhibit the ability to successfully manage their own responsibilities.

As your children stumble through the new system, be readily available to offer empathy (“Yikes, you must’ve been hungry all afternoon after you forgot your lunch!”) and to talk about solutions (“What do you think you could do to make sure you remember it tomorrow?”) but to never say anything in the form of a “Well, that’s what you get. . . .” Kids will learn much more from their mistakes than from any lecture you dish out, no matter how well meaning.

Excerpted from The Me, Me, Me” Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World by Amy McCready. © 2015 by Amy McCready. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.

Parenting expert Amy McCready is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids, reaching a worldwide audience with her Positive Parenting Solutions Online parenting course, web and print articles, live webinars, and media appearances.