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Raise Your Children to Be Helpers

Kids who think of themselves as helpers will be more helpful than kids who are merely given opportunities to help. Build your child’s identity as a helper by praising them for honest effort, pointing out instances of helping, teaching them to take responsibility to other seriously, and encouraging their independent efforts to contribute.

Instilling a Helper Identity

  1. Call them helpers when you ask for things. Instead of asking for help, ask your child to “be a helper.” All people, children included, are more motivated when their identity is in play.[1] You can start doing this with your children as early as two years old.

    • You might say, “Jayden, can you be a helper and clean your bedroom before Grandma comes over?” or “Please be a helper and stay quiet while your sister naps.”
    • Another great way to encourage helping behavior in your kids is to get them excited about helping. For example, you could ask your child to help pick up their toys by saying, “Can you please be a good helper and pick some of your toys up with mommy?” Then, after they help you say, “Yay! You are such a good helper!” when you see your child doing something you like. Or, you can make a game out of picking up toys and clap your hands or cheer every time your child picks one up.

  3. Praise them for being a helper. Strengthen the positive impact of their “helper” identity by praising them when they are helpful. For instance, if your child brings their dish to the sink after a meal, you might say, “Thank you for being a good helper by cleaning up your dish!”[2]

    • Saying “helper” will have a greater impact than praising them “for helping” or for “being helpful.”

  5. Point out instances of others being helpers. When you see someone doing something generous or assisting another person in any way, point that person out to your child. For instance, if you see someone throw away trash in a park, you might say, “See that person being a helper? They threw away some trash that wasn’t even theirs.”[3]

    • Thank other adults for being helpers in front of your child. Say, “I appreciate you bringing in the bags with me, dear. You are really being a helper.”
    • The presence of helpers can be comforting to children. If your kid sees something frightening in real life or on TV, encourage them to look for the helpers.
    • For instance, if you pass by an accident on the road, point out the people stopped to help and any EMT or other medical workers present. Say, “See the helpers who are staying with the family?” or “I saw some helpers who were busy getting that person safely into an ambulance.”
    • Notice yourself being a helper, and point out some things you are doing to your child.

  7. Encourage them to think like a helper. Once your kids start to understand what activities are typical of helpers, ask them to point out instances to you. After school, you might ask, “was anyone a good helper today?” or “were you a helper for any of your friends today?”

    • Give them helper challenges. For instance, you might pick a neighbor or friend who is having a rough time. Ask your kid to think of a kindness that might be useful to them. Give them ideas and guide them in their efforts.
    • For instance, if you have a neighbor who has been sick, ask your kid to brainstorm ways to be a helper. If they come up with something practical, like “bringing over soup,” put them in charge of age-appropriate tasks (finding out what kind of soup the neighbor eats, picking out vegetables, chopping, delivery…)

Assigning Responsibilities

  1. Give age-appropriate chores. Anyone can help to some degree. Small children can clean up their own toys, provide reminders, and take on small social responsibilities such as greeting guests. Older children can take charge of important tasks like taking out the trash and walking the dog.

    • Keep a chore chart. Let your kids check off their chores so they have the satisfaction of recording themselves being helpers. Make sure everyone uses the charts so that your kids see that everyone is doing their chores.

  3. Hold your children to their commitments. Children need to understand that the commitments they make to others are essential. If your kid has a playdate, don’t let them cancel just because they aren’t feeling social. However, keep in mind that sometimes there are exceptions. If your child is emotionally or physically exhausted, then it is okay to let them cancel now and then.

    • If your kid joins a team, explain that they must stick with it for the season at least.[4] However, be willing to listen to their reasons for wanting to quit and validate their concerns. If your child absolutely hates doing something, then forcing them to continue will not be doing them any good.
    • If your kid has a serious reason for quitting something, such as being badly bullied by the “friend” or teammates, then you should talk to the other adults in the situation. If no suitable protection can be devised, you should let your child back out.

  5. Train your children to speak politely to others. Teach your children that every day is a cooperative venture. When we are kind to others, we make the day better for them.[5]

    • Prompt them to say please, thank you, and excuse me.
    • Ask them what they are grateful for, and encourage them to express this gratitude.
    • Be a good role model, and let your children see you speaking respectfully to everyone you meet.
    • For instance, if you are irritated with bad service in a store, control your temper and speak politely to those at work. Remind yourself that you don’t know why they are busy or distracted: they might have a good reason.

Rewarding Help Effectively

  1. Praise only honest effort. When you praise your child for being a helper, make sure you mean it. Explain exactly what you consider worthy of the label “helper.” Do not praise them constantly for every little thing or you will normalize the praise and it will not have as much meaning. Try to offer praise sparingly and it will have more significance for your child.

    • If you see your child working hard at basketball, for instance, you don’t need to say, “You were a real helper on the court today! Your teammates are so lucky to have you.” You may make your child feel like self-conscious of their spontaneous engagement.
    • However, if you see your child working hard with a homework partner even though the subject is difficult for them, you might praise them for being a good helper by saying, “You don’t always like doing your math, but today you worked through every problem with Sarah! I was pleased to see you both being such good helpers for each other.”
    • Praise effort, not ability. Praising ability makes kids over-cautious.
    • Older children may be suspicious of praise. Make sure you always mean your praise sincerely, or you will discourage children.

  3. Do not offer material rewards for being a helper. Offering toys, food, or other material rewards will weaken the “helper” label. You will make your kid feel as if they are not supposed to be inherently helpful, but instead should be constantly monitoring their own gain.[6]

  5. Let children help, but do not pressure them. Give kids the choice to help others, and let them know their individual decision counts.[7] However, do not pressure them to give up rewards or other things they covet: it will make them less generous in the future.

    • For instance, you might say, “We are all donating clothing and toys we don’t need any more to kids who are less fortunate. Here is a bag with your name on it: please put what you don’t need in it.”
    • Don’t say, “You don’t need so many dolls. I want you to put at least three of your dolls in the donation bag.” You will make your child feel like their ownership of their possessions is threatened, and they will be less inclined to give things freely.

  1. http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2015/09/encouraging-child-become-helper/
  2. http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2015/09/encouraging-child-become-helper/
  3. http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2015/09/encouraging-child-become-helper/
  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind/?utm_term=.1c79b4a5ecd5
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them-to-be-kind/?utm_term=.1c79b4a5ecd5
  6. http://www.parentingscience.com/effects-of-praise.html
  7. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/five_ways_to_raise_kind_children

Excerpt from Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki building the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on Raise your children to be helpers. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

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