what is it?

Helpfulness is looking for ways to help someone and then offering that help. Helpfulness is being of service to others and doing thoughtful things that make a difference in their lives. Helpfulness is based on compassion and caring for another person. Helpfulness not only provides comfort and support to others, it creates a sense of cooperation and community, and provides the one helping with a sense of fulfillment. Helpfulness also encompasses being helpful to ourselves too, by taking care of ourselves. Since we all, certainly as children, need help sometimes, acquiring the trait of helpfulness also means being able to ask for help when needed. 

why do we need it?

Prosocial behavior is social behavior that benefits other people or society as a whole, and it begins to emerge in the second year of life. Prosocial behaviors are following rules and social norms, but also voluntary actions such as helping. Although toddlers can display plenty of challenging behavior, they are also very willing to help, and when helping is met with a positive response from adults, it increases the child’s motivation to help again. Studies show that giving children meaningful tasks and the autonomy to complete them may be key to making them more resilient and capable in later life. By promoting required helpfulness and contributing to the wellbeing of others, we help children build their own identity, feel good about themselves, contribute to the family and community, build strong mental health, and lay the foundation for happiness. 

what are the goals?

The goals of learning helpfulness are: 

how do we teach it?

books we read

how to boost it at home

words we use

Ingraining helpfulness in children is not an overnight process—like teaching them any life skill, it takes practice and patience. 

Start young.

Toddlers are naturally eager to help, and it’s the perfect time to let them, even if it means that you have to lower your standards of how things are done, or even redo it afterwards. By allowing toddlers to help out and experience the positive feelings that helping generates, you are building a habit and motivation that will extend the practice of helping out for years to come. 

Let them help you.

One of the easiest ways to let children help at home is helping with housework. Whether they offer to help or you need to invite them, working together for a common goal is team work, precious time with your child, and a lesson that will one day send your child off into the world with a desire for order, and the ability to sort lights and darks! 

Be attentive.

Even before some children are able to express their desire to help out verbally, they will try to make it clear to you somehow, whether by pointing, or simply starting to imitate your work. Watch for those opportunities to help young children learn skills in the course of the day. 

Be active.

Fostering a child’s interest in your work requires intentionality. Share the whats, hows and whys of a job. Let them get a good look at what’s in the mixing bowl or let them put the clothes into the washing machine. In this stage of the learning process, slow, steady and sometimes not meeting your standards is the motto. 

Watch your attitude.

Your child is picking up a lot more than just skills as they observe you work! They are also observing your attitude, which means you need to be aware of the message you are conveying about work too. Let your positive approach toward helping be an example. 

Praise the effort.

Notice your child’s efforts so they continue to view helping as a fun, worthwhile activity! Specifically, use descriptive phrases to praise your child’s helpfulness. For example, “Thank you for putting your clothes in the dirty hamper. You’re a great helper!” 

Choose age-appropriate tasks.

Make sure you match the task with your child’s level of development. If your child is struggling or doesn’t seem eager to try, that may be your hint to save that job for later. When they do show interest in helping, you can help your child practice and accomplish tasks without getting frustrated by matching the job to their age and ability. As the child develops, the task can too. 

Help your helper.

Don’t expect your child to work on their own. For them, half the fun is spending time with you! Even with a team of two, you and your young child might not be powering through your to do list, but what you give up in productivity, you gain in teaching your child important skills and spending quality time together. 

Make it fun.

Turn on music, take dance breaks, race each other. Make doing chores and helping out fun and your child won’t associate it with work. 

Provide structure and routine.

Children thrive on predictable schedules and routines. Set up simple morning and evening routines that involve self-care like tooth-brushing, and helping out, like putting toys away. 

Model helpfulness.

Have your child help you make cookies for the new neighbors, or shovel the elderly neighbor’s driveway, or put food in the bin for the local community pantry. Help the neighbors, help the community, help each other, and be sure to ask for help. 

Manage your expectations.

When your four-year-old folds his laundry, it may not be up to your standards. Don’t criticize. Recognize a job well done. You want your children to discover the satisfaction of contribution, which is more important than having the job done quickly or perfectly. And most importantly, when you allow your child to help, you are also bonding, which is what motivates kids to keep contributing. 

Avoid rewards.

Studies show that children actually enjoy helping more when they are not receiving a material reward. Children respond to praise, spending time with you and feeling the boost in their self-confidence. There’s plenty of time to introduce allowance later on. 

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character education | may


building character to last a lifetime!