In this age of competitive parenting, wouldn’t it be nice to shift our focus from traditional measures of success to something that’s less talked about, but fundamental to raising the next generation of humans? I’m talking about how to raise helpers. You know the type. Helpers are the kids who have empathy, recognize the needs of others, and are intrinsically motivated to jump in and help.
The recent college admissions scandal has shined a spotlight on the good, the bad, and the ugly of modern parenting. I recall the now-ancient days of “tiger mom” versus “elephant mom,” but now we have all kinds of fun new terms moving away from the animal kingdom to the world of heavy machinery. Are you a “helicopter parent” or a “snowplow parent“? It’s enough to make your head spin!
What the national conversation on parenting reveals to me is that “success” in the form of academic and career achievement is at the top of our value system for our kids. But what if we started valuing emotional intelligence more? What if the ultimate sign of parental “success” was not what schools your kid gets into, but rather your child’s character? What if every parent aimed to raise children who sought to help others? How would the world look?
If we agree that raising helpers would be a good thing to do, the huge question is how do we do it? I can’t pretend that I’ve figured it out. My son is only two-and-a-half and is living in his own hedonistic universe. But here are the things that we’re working on. And we hope that it’ll eventually pay off.
- Believe that helping is important. This sounds obvious, but it’s not. Raising helpers takes effort, time, and patience. It takes sacrifice on the part of parents to instill these values in our little ones. In order to make those sacrifices, you have to believe that it’ll be worth it.
- If you want to raise helpers, be a helper. Modeling is everything. Little kids learn how to exist in this world from watching their parents. If our children see us keeping our eyes open to opportunities to help and asking others whether we may lend a hand, they will learn to do the same. They will see the value in engaging the world beyond ourselves and being sensitive to the needs of others.
- Let your kids help around the house as soon as they’re able to walk. I didn’t believe this until I had my own toddler, but kids LOVE to help, especially with tasks that they see adults doing every day. I’ve started enlisting my little guy’s help with all kinds of chores around the house and he’s loving it! It makes him feel grown-up and included.
- Yes, let them help even if it complicates things. Let’s be real: letting your kids help with household tasks can be annoying. When our kids help us, things take longer and they’re not always done right. Sometimes accidents happen and things break. But I try hard to remain patient, let my son finish whatever task he’s helping with, and only re-do something he already did when he’s out of view. I want him to know that his efforts matter.
- Provide guidance and encouragement when they are helping. With my rowdy toddler who’s always pushing boundaries, I’m grateful for any opportunity to praise his effort. Allowing him to help me around the house provides the perfect chance to praise his helpfulness, generosity, attention, listening, awareness, and kindness. It’s genuine, and he can feel that. Plus it gives me a chance to help him learn how to do tasks that every adult should know how to do.
- Make “family service” part of your routine. I used to rush to do all the housework while my son was at school so I could do it efficiently. But I’ve been trying a new thing that engages all of us family members in taking care of our collective home. My husband and I call all of our household tasks “family service” and make it clear that everyone who lives in the house must participate. We’re trying to make active involvement in domestic life something natural and expected, with the hopes that the daily practice of helpfulness will translate into other aspects of our son’s life.
I’d love to hear from anyone else who has insight on how to raise helpers!