We all know them: the parents who constantly rescue their children. Most of us can see the results of that approach ain’t that hot.
The trick of course is to know when we are nurturing our children, and when we are rescuing them unnecessarily. Nurturing is vital. Connection essential and occasional Mindful Disconnections just as essential. Knowing the difference between nurturing and rescuing is the next key to raising resilient children. (If you’re new, the series on Mindful Disconnection began here: Connection and Disconnection: Optimal Parenting Part One.)
Children who are under-nurtured with strict boundaries grow up with a social face of bravado and a lonely heart; they could well grow up to be natural persecutors. Children who are sensitive and under-nurtured often grow up to become natural rescuers. Children who are nurtured well enough and constantly rescued, often grow up with a victim approach to life. Yes, you could be all three.
Some of you might recognise those terms: this post is my take on Karpman’s Drama Triangle theory, which you could read about here, if you want to know more. If you think you need to see a therapist after you’ve read all that, please do. (Not joking.)
As long as children are well-nurtured and their parents understand Mindful Disconnection and use it wisely, I don’t think you really need to worry if you are over-rescuing your child until around the age of six. (Rescuing them unnecessarily from physical danger is another issue, for another post.) If you want to wipe your five year-olds bottom, it’s not the end of the world. If you are still helping your five year-old get dressed from time to time, it is probably that you’re communicating that you are as there for them as you say you are. Nurturing in those first few years is vital for raising resilient children. And around age five and a half to six it’s a good idea, I think, to check that you are not rescuing your children from unpleasant tasks which they are perfectly capable of completing themselves (emotional disconnection, illness, tiredness and hunger always taken into account).
To raise resilient children we need to communicate that we believe they can handle the task they have been set.
This does not mean we leave them with a huge awful mess to tidy-up alone or that we become Sergent Majors. It does mean that we don’t buy into their role of persecutor, rescuer or victim. Example:
Mr Owl (age six) sometimes has a chore of doing a towels load due to skiddy undies. This could be called a Natural Consequence, or a Real-Life Consequence. He is capable of not having skiddy undies. (Important point.) When he does, he creates more washing. As a reasonable Real-Life Consequence he gets to do a load of towels. He only has to hang out, get in, fold-up and put away the small items – this is within his capabilities. (Important point.) Sometimes he doesn’t want to do them. (I’ll go more into why it’s important that he does next post in the series.)
Automatically he will fall into a role in Karpman’s triangle. He might play the victim. He’ll say things like, “I can’t manage.” “It’s too much for me.” “It’s not fair.” “You’re so mean.” etc We could become persecutors and punish him or be horrid to him. This would reinforce his role as a victim. We could step in and do the work for him – that is rescue him. This would also reinforce his role as a victim. If we did either of those things, we wouldn’t be raising a resilient child who feels capable. As Diane Levy, Kiwi family therapist says, “I can’t” really means, “I won’t.”
Alternatively, Mr Owl might become a persecutor (he doesn’t, he’s far more likely to play the victim, these are just examples). He might say things like, “I won’t love you, if you don’t help me.” “You’re a bitch.” “I’m going to hit you.” etc, he might also try to use his body aggressively either in a threatening way or with actual violence. There will probably be a lot of unpleasant noise. Again, we could rescue him and do the work for him – reinforcing his role in life as a persecutor. We could become persecutors ourselves and end up in a power-struggle. We could become victims and use reasoning, pleading, whining,and/or emotional blackmail to make him see our point of view, again reinforcing his role as a persecutor.
Mr Owl could also become the rescuer, if Mr Hare was in this position. Younger siblings sometimes do this to curry favour with an older sibling. This is when Mr Owl might say, “I’ll do the work for you,” and do it.
So what can we do? Again, as long as we are certain the child isn’t disconnected, ill, hungry or over-tired (not just a little bit tired) then Mindful Disconnection works a treat. We don’t become part of the Drama Triangle.
Parent: “Your towels need to be folded and put away.”
Child: “I caaaan’t”
Parent: “You may sit on this chair here, or finish your towels.” (Not a naughty chair or in a separate room, in fact, I think it works best where children can see the task they need to complete.) And become fascinated with something else nearby.
The child may try to get off the chair. Just put them back and repeat the line, you may sit on this chair or finish your towels. Sometimes it will take seconds for the child to feel they can manage. Sometimes it will take a lot longer. As long as your body-language is conveying that you are emotionally disconnected from any drama – it’ll happen. Because you are conveying by your disconnection that 1. you’re not part of the Drama Triangle and 2. they’re capable.
When they child tries to become the persecutor that good line, “That’s a shame,” is your Mindful Disconnection phrase. If you need to, leave the room and put yourself somewhere away from their drama. Again, use the chair, wall or some other spot for them to contemplate their navel and decide that they are capable of completing the task.
If someone else tries to rescue them from the chore. Step in and disallow it. Rescuing is not nurturing.
Why does disengaging from the Drama Triangle through Mindful Disconnection work so well? Simply because the child has to do the emotional and intellectual processing. They’re doing the work. Not the parent. If we became the persecutor – we’re doing the intellectual and emotional work; if we become the rescuer – we’re doing all the work; if we become the victim – we’re doing all the emotional and intellectual work.
When the child is finished simply say, thank-you. In this case finished is when everything is away, including the washing basket.
We cannot do our child’s push-ups for them and expect that they will end up fit and strong.
Resilient children know they can manage unpleasant
or boring tasks.
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