It’s natural for Moms and Dads to want to jump in and “fix it’ when kids are
faced with a problem. But sometimes rushing to the rescue can do more
harm than good. Therapist, Julie Hanks has five questions to ask yourself
before you rescue your child from natural consequences.
The only source of knowledge is experience. – Einstein
Being a “good parent” usually means being involved in your child’s life and
“doing” things for your child, like volunteering in school, attending their
sporting events and teaching values and skills. Allowing your child to
experience natural consequences is painful for parents because they require
us to do less or to not do something which might leave you feeling like a
“bad” parent. You may want to rescue your child from natural consequences
to prevent your child from feeling pain, to keep your child happy, or to make
your child like you. Or you may intervene in natural consequences to ease
your own pain. It’s hard to see your child struggle with difficult emotions like
disappointment, failure, and loneliness.
If our job as parents isn’t to keep our kids happy, what is our job? It’s to do
what we can to raise responsible children who grow up and contribute
something positive to society, and to encourage self-awareness and
sensitivity to others so they can grow up to create fulfilling adult
relationships and healthy families.
1) Is my child in immediate danger?
If “no” then let natural consequences play out. If “yes” then intervene and use
other ways of teaching. Examples of immediate danger are a toddler running
into street, teen driving drunk, tween chatting with a stranger online.
Generally, these situations are the exception in everyday parenting. It’s the
small situations that are sometimes the trickiest to work through, like a child
forgetting lunch, fighting with friends, breaking a household rule, because
they don’t seem like a big deal individually, but they add up over time.
2) Whose problem is this?
Who owns the problem? If you “pick up” the problem and hold on to it, your
child will let you and allow you to be in charge of their problem. Notice the
language you use when talking to your child about their struggles. I hear a
lot of moms say, “We’ve got a lot of homework tonight.” That’s a sign that
mom owns the homework, instead of the child. I like to tell my 9 year old, “I
already passed 3rd grade. This is your homework and I’m here to help and
support you.” Your language can give clues to who owns the problem/issue.
Author Byron Katie
says there are 3 kinds of “business” in life:
a) Your business
b) Other people’s business (including your child’s)
c) God’s business
We are usually in pain when we get into other people’s or God’s “business”.
I am currently in the difficult process of letting my seventeen year old own
and experience the consequences of a big mistake. We have an old car that
she was able to drive. She drove it for weeks without oil, after several
reminders from her dad, and the car was damaged beyond repair. She is now
paying us back a couple thousand dollars for the car she totaled. It is her
3) What is the most loving thing to do?
Doing the “loving” thing isn’t the same as being nice or choosing a path that
results in the least amount of relational conflict. The loving thing may at first
seem to be rescuing, but being loving is actually doing what’s in your child’s
I’ve seen parents, in an attempt to be “nice” and unconditionally loving enable
their child to continue to break the law, to take advantage of others, and to
develop a sense of entitlement. In extreme cases, I’ve known a few parents
who, in the name of love, enabled an adult child to an early death from
addiction by not allowing them to hit rock bottom and continually bailing
4) What will my child learn if I rescue him/her?
By rescuing your child from natural consequences you may be inadvertently
teaching your child not to trust their own judgment, that they are not capable
of handling hard things, and that they will always need you to help them. I
recently met with a mother of an adult child who was angry at her son for
taking advantage of her. She wanted him to get a job or work harder in
school, yet she was allowing him to live at home without contributing to the
household chores or paying rent. He had no incentive to step up. Her child
had learned that his mom will take care of his basic needs even if he doesn’t
friend Michelle Willis’ 5 year old stole a $15 book. Michelle held
her daughter accountable to pay for the book by doing household chores.
Her daughter, now 12, still has the book, and learned early in her life that
you can’t get something for nothing.
5) How will this prepare my child for their future?
Each stage of development prepares a child for the next phase of life.
Allowing your child to make age appropriate choices and experience natural
consequences early on gives them experience to build on for future
developmental stages in every area of life: intellectually, emotionally,
spiritually, relationally, physically.
Homework seems to be one of the most common parenting struggles. Here’s
an example of how early experiences with natural consequences build
preparation for the future. If your first grader forgets to do homework they
may have to stay in at recess. In Junior High School if you forget to turn in a
paper you’ll get a lower grade in the class. In High School forgetting to turn
in papers means a lower grade in class and a lower GPA which limits future
options, like college scholarships or work opportunities. Turning in papers in
a time manner in High School or college prepares you for adult employment
where forgetting to write report for board meeting will get you fired.
Another Facebook friend,
Emily Bitner Hill, shares how she lets natural
consequences teach her High School children who want to stay home
because they aren’t feeling well. “They are quickly learning life is easier and
less stressful if they go to school and stay on top of their work without me
saying a word,” she says.
Wasatch Family Therapy is offering FREE therapy next week only!
WHY: Celebrate the opening of our Provo location
WHEN: Oct. 3-7, 2011
WHERE: Wasatch Family Therapy Provo
363 N University Ave, Suite 108A, Provo UT 84601Provo
HOW: Bring a canned food donation for Provo Community Action
Food Bank and we’ll waive your therapy fee!
for details and to schedule your free therapy session.
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is a therapist, self & relationship expert, media
contributor and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Visit
com for individual, couple, family, & group
counseling services designed to strengthen you and your family. We treat
mental health and relationship problems in children, adolescents, and adults.
Now open in Provo!
For additional emotional health & relationship resources connect with Julie at