Are You a Rescuer or a Helper?

If you’re a PTA parent, chances are you are pretty involved in your child’s education. But how you get involved matters in your child’s ability to handle problems on their own once they head out into the world. The two main approaches are often described as Rescuers and Helpers.

Rescuers

  • Take responsibility for solving the problem
  • Tend to give advice when presented with a problem (“You should…”)
  • Bring up past issues that were painful (“This is just like the last time when you…”)
  • Are more like to interfere on behalf of their student (“I’ll call ______ and…”)
  • Tell how they solved a similar problem (“When I was your age…”)
  • Tend to see all problems as big problems
  • Unload their frustrations or fears on the person seeking help
  • Are more likely to feel that there is only one solution to a problem

Result: The parent feels burned out and ineffective, while the student feels disempowered and unheard.

Helpers

  • Focus on shared goals
  • Leave the past behind, focus on the present
  • Remain or appear to be neutral
  • Use curious questions (“What have you tried?”)
  • Encourage their student to problem solve, using available resources (“What are your ideas?” “Who might you go to for help?”)
  • Listen for feelings and empathize (“It sounds like you…” “How can I help?”)
  • Follow up with their student
  • Let the student make their own decision even if you do not feel it is the best decision

Result: The parent feels useful and effective, while the student feels listened to and empowered.

When our kids are little, it’s easy to be a rescuer because they are much more dependent on us and don’t have many experiences to draw on. But that can easily become our default mode of “helping” as they grow up. Even when they’re little, parents can take the helper approach to teach their child how to solve problems on their own.