How to Guard Against Raising a "Rescuer"


We all want to raise children who show kindness to others and compassion for suffering. Surprisingly, however, there is a flip side. We must also recognize the danger of becoming patronizing, of somehow feeling we have the answers to other people's struggles. We don't want our children to start seeing the world as divided into "givers" and "receivers." To avoid this, remind your children that everyone needs help at times, that all of us have something to offer others -- and that the world is simply a better place when we help one another out.

-Jenny Friedman, Executive Director


Making a Difference...

Everyone is both a giver and a receiver.

Everyone is both a giver and a receiver.

These tips can help you raise kind, giving children while avoiding the sense of "rescuing" that can be an unintended consequence of serving others.

  • Remember that the benefits of helping can be two-sided. Giving can develop skills, give us a sense of purpose and expand our view of the world. Look for chances to show your children that "doing for others" can be as satisfying for them as for the receiver. Maybe more so! 

  • Talk about times when you and your family needed help. Yes, we want to encourage our children to lend a hand. But it's just as important to tell stories about times when your family has needed assistance and how it felt to get it. Did friends deliver meals when you were ill? Did folks step up when you needed emergency childcare? A loan? A mentor? Describe who helped out and what it meant to you.  

  • Do "180s" with your child. Teach your child to imagine the world from another person's viewpoint. It can start with simple questions. How do you think your teacher feels when the class isn't listening? How do you think your classmate feels when he's laughed at? How do you think Grandma felt when she got your thank-you card? Do the same with characters in books or movies you share together. 

  • Focus on similarities, not differences. We have more empathy for people we consider to be like us. When we get to know people, they no longer feel so different. Help your children see the similarities between themselves and, say, the woman you visit at the nursing home, the shy child in their class, or the man in a developing country hoping for a loan to start a business. This practice will help your child resist forming stereotypes. 

  • Explain the possible issues behind the troubles. Rather than blaming people struggling with homelessness, food insecurity or other challenges, help your child understand that such problems are often systemic. Homelessness can result from a lack of affordable housing, job loss, a fire or other natural disaster, or domestic violence. Hardship can also result from mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction or physical disabilities. Discourage your family from making assumptions with too little information. Talk about how you might work to solve your community's larger problems, not just alleviate the symptoms.


Talk About It...

  • Ask your child about a time when he or she, or maybe your whole family, needed help. Talk about how it felt when you received that help.
  • Now ask your children to describe a time when they offered help. How did that feel?
  • Did you know that some research suggests that low-income people are more generous and helpful than people who are more affluent? Imagine how we all have something valuable to offer, regardless of income or age.
  • Read this article, which considers the meaning of service. If your children are old enough, share the anecdotes and discuss your family's reactions.

Learn About It...

Miss Tizzy by Libba Moore Gray (ages 4-8).

With her colorful daily adventures, Miss Tizzy shares true friendship with the children in her community. When she becomes ill, the children offer her strength and support using all she taught them. This is a wonderful story for illustrating how much we all have to offer.


To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, public television stations held sweater drives. The idea came from Fred Rogers, who wanted to encourage giving without promoting an "us" and "them" attitude. He wrote to PBS stations:

"Whether we're giving or receiving a sweater, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors -- in our own way, everyone is a giver and a receiver. It's far better to say to our children that we are gathering sweaters for people who are cold and don't have the money to buy warm clothing, rather than 'for the needy' or 'less fortunate.' It may also help to let our children know that people who have money to donate or who have a sweater to give to a clothing drive have other kinds of needs. And those who receive the money or sweater or food have other strengths."   – The Giving Box by Fred Rogers (Running Press Kids, 2000)


Check out the DGT resources especially focused on these all-too-short summer months. Some of our favorites:

Make this summer memorable by having fun AND doing good with your family!