The 'no rescue' movement: Could this be the cure for helicopter parenting?

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By Jordana Horn

When my fourth grader recently came home from school upset and told me he got yelled at for forgetting a notebook, I was not surprised. I’d seen the notebook on the kitchen table.

But after years of schlepping cellos, books and lunches to the elementary school midday for my two sons, and leaving dinner prep on hold to take a kid to school as the sun was setting to retrieve homework, I finally made a decision to do no more rescues.

These "I forgot" extra school runs were making me frustrated and annoyed on a daily basis. And they weren’t teaching my kids not to forget their things. So I sat my fifth and fourth grader down before school started this year, and told them simply: I quit.

I quit the micro-job of being The Fixer: the one who solved all problems. From now on, I told them, if they left something at school in the afternoon, I wasn’t going to bring them back to school to get it. And if they left something at home in the morning, I wasn’t going to bring it to them.

As my boys enter the "double digits," I reasoned with myself, they’re ready to assume more responsibility for themselves — and that includes owning the consequences for their mistakes.

Sure, my kids would probably get reprimanded by teachers the first time they forgot their homework, or their string instruments. But it would also teach them the important lesson that there are real repercussions for mistakes. Did I waver a bit when I got that first phone call from school from my older son, asking me if I’d bring his cello? Sure: I heard the stress in his voice. But I just said calmly, “Just tell them you forgot.” I still felt bad when I hung up the phone, but I knew I’d done the right thing in the big picture.

The loneliest viola: When one of Jordana Horn's sons leaves his musical instrument by the door in the morning, she does not jump into action to bring it to school for him.Today

Amy McCready, TODAY Parents contributor and author of "If I Have to Tell You One More Time," agrees, and says the "no rescue" policy is one of her cornerstones of nag-free mornings.

“For kids who are developmentally ready, the long term benefits of implementing a No Rescue Policy are responsibility and accountability,” McCready says. “A popular expression in parenting education circles is: ‘A child who always forgets has a parent who always remembers.’  If we rescue kids from their repeated forgetfulness, we rob them of the opportunity to take personal responsibility and learn from their missteps. Who will be there to rescue them in college or at their first job?”

Don’t implement the no rescue policy, McCready cautions, unless the forgetfulness is a repeated event. Everyone makes one-off mistakes, but this policy is strictly for repeat offenders. Also, she emphasizes, the policy needs to be explained to the child in advance: “Be clear that [your child] will now be responsible for remembering on her own and she’ll have to experience the natural consequences of her forgetfulness.”

McCready says the policy will have the most success if the parent sets the kids up for success. Help the kids put out visual reminders of what they need to remember. Personally, I tell them to look at the calendar on our kitchen wall, where every day of orchestra is clearly marked.

And of course, when the forgetting does take place, go for empathy rather than, “Told you so!” After all, the goal of the policy is not to emphasize parental authority — it’s to instill personal responsibility. So feel free to just do what I did: hug the kid, kiss him on the cheek, and tell him, “You’ll remember next time.”

Because I know he will.

This story was originally published Monday, October 20.