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  • Dr Kate Owen

Rescue? Rush? or Resilience!

Updated: May 26

Knowing how to best support your child can feel like a juggling act sometimes. When you see a little bit of stress in your child, do you instantly want to scoop them up and hide them away from the world? Or do you get worried that they will never cope in life, and so you push them towards independence out of concern?


Even though these two actions look very different, they are fuelled by the same thing...worry for your child and wanting the best for them.


If you tend to rescue, you might say "I want to protect them. I don't want them to get hurt".


If you tend to rush, you mights say "I want them to survive in life. They need to learn how to look after themselves".


There’s no right or wrong answer, but the best gauge is your child’s central nervous system.


Let me explain…if your child is flooded with anxiety and stress and their brain and body is in fight-flight-freeze mode, then the BEST response from you is to soothe them and help them feel SAFE. This is definitely not a learning opportunity to help them build resilience.


However, there will be lots of other times when your child is a little bit stressed…because not all stress is bad for them…and these are the times to think about how you as the “big person” can respond in a way that promotes resilience.


Now you have some insight into your own reactions, what do you do the next time you see your little one feel uncomfortable in a situation?


First…it is important to be aware of your own emotions, feelings, and thoughts.


Next…take a deep breath!


Then…resist the urge to rescue or rush them!


Instead, take the opportunity to create a learning experience, that over time will help your child increase their resilience and ability to cope and problem solve situations. This is a process that happens over time, so don’t give up if it doesn’t go to plan the first time. Or the second time. Or the third time…


Here are my “10 Top Tips for Building Resilience in Kids”:


1. Safety Is Key

Children will feel safe to explore the world and try new things if they have a safe, nurturing, and resilient adult that they can turn to for support.


2. Be A Good Role Model

Children learn from adults by watching, observing, and listening to their reactions and experiences…even when you think they are not! Take opportunities to role model problem solving skills and coping skills. Show them it is ok to fail.


3. Resist The Urge To Rescue

Your first instinct is to scoop them up in your arms and protect them. As hard as it will be for you, take a deep breath and resist the urge to jump in too quickly to “fix, rescue, and soothe” unless necessary.


4. Age Appropriate Independence

We often make the mistake of expecting more from children than they are developmentally ready for. Make sure that you are setting activities, chores and tasks that they can successfully navigate given their age and abilities.


5. Coach AND Cheerleader

When supporting your child with a new skill; first show them how to do it, step back and let them have a go, step in again when needed, step back again and cheerlead for both “successes” and “trying”.


6. Safe Exploration

If your child worries about trying new things, then follow these steps: prepare, plan, participate, praise, and repeat. For severe cases of anxiety, please seek the support of a professional to help both you and your child take smaller steps towards a bigger goal.


7. Risk Taking Is OK

Find opportunities to allow your child to participate in healthy risk taking behaviour. Try to avoid using language such as “Be careful!”.


8. What Do You Notice?

Often adults notice when the child is doing something "the wrong way” and takes the opportunity to help guide and teach. For example, “That’s not the way we stack the dishwasher. We do it this way”. To help build confidence and a sense of competence, try to notice and highlight your child’s strengths. For example, “Wow! You tried to stack the dishwasher all by yourself? That is very thoughtful. Great initiative. Let’s do it together”. Notice moments of competence and confidence.


9. Practice Coping Skills

Children who learn to cope effectively with stress are better prepared for handling challenges in life. Teach your child a combination of strategies that soothe their body and ease their mind. The Keep Calm Cards are 37 strategies that teach you how to cope with anxiety and are suitable for all ages.


10. No Mixed Messages

Having a network of supportive adults who are on the same page is essential in building childhood resilience and a sense of safety and containment. It can be confusing if parents have vastly different approaches to supporting their child – one parent “rescues” while the other parent “rushes”. This is also true of the collaboration between home and school. When parents and teachers work together, children flourish and thrive.

More Resources

This information is educational in nature and does not take into consideration the unique situation and circumstances for your child and family.

Please seek professional support if required.

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© 2019 Dr Kate Owen