making it easier to do a job, deal with a problem
willing to help other people1
About Being Helpful and Being Helped: The ability to help others requires self-awareness and social awareness. The helper must identify ways in which he can contribute to solving other’s problems or promoting another’s well-being. He must also have a keen awareness of and sensitivity to those around him. He must be empathetic. Children at various ages and stages want to be helpful and contribute to others. During the preschool years (ages 3-5), children begin to look for ways to help others as they work on their own understanding of social rules and norms. Tweens who are entering the middle school years begin to take on an interest in social justice making it a prime time to introduce service as a means to better understand community problems and work toward solutions. Researcher Richard Catalano and his colleagues found that participation in communities helped students develop stronger connections to the community norms and values, thereby contributing to community cohesion.2 This helps give kids a sense of contribution, a feeling of competence and a greater connection to the community.
In addition to being a helper, confident children know how and when to ask for help when they need it. This is as critical a skill as the first. Kids can be taught to look for other adults in whom they can place their trust. For example, my son has severe allergies that can quickly land him in the hospital. I communicate with all of the adults in his life (teachers, school nurse, friends, grandparents and sitters) about what to do in the event of a life-threatening emergency. But we also prepare our son. He must trust the adults in his life to help him and he has to know when he should ask for help. When the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy occurred, one of my posts included this wise quote from Mister Rogers which holds true in many varied contexts:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.3
Statistically, it’s highly unlikely that your child will be harmed by a stranger but it’s much more likely they may be helped. Whether your child is lost in a large store, stuck on an elevator or caught in the midst of a natural disaster, she needs to look to other adults and possibly rely on the kindness of strangers to help her when she needs it most.
Additionally, there are moments when we are witness to someone who is hurt. Particularly in public situations we may think, “Someone else will stop and help.” You can always choose to be that someone that helps. Model for your children and encourage them to get involved. They don’t need to put themselves in harm’s way but they can certainly recruit an adult to intervene in a difficult situation.
Strategy to Promote Helpfulness: Modeling is one of the most powerful ways to practice helpfulness with any age child. Involve your child in the process and preparations of helping another. It could be as simple as opening the door for someone in a wheelchair. Make your thinking visible to your child by simply commenting on your thought process. You might say, “That woman may have struggled with getting in the door. Thanks for assisting me in helping her. Can you imagine what it’s like for her to get around in a wheel chair?”
Also reaching out and appreciating people who are different from you can help children feel more connected and responsible for the welfare of others. The Dalai Lama funds a research center at Stanford University that is looking at the physical connections and impacts of altruism and compassion. In an interview about the center, he discusses the evolutionary tendency to help your own tribe and not others.
Ultimately this doesn’t work for the greater good. To overcome these natural mechanisms, certain techniques help: simply looking at that other group, whose members you would not normally feel kinship with, and saying, “Well, it turns out that they want their children to be educated like mine. They have the same interest in seeing X, Y or Z occur, just like me.” It has a profound effect on how you perceive your responsibility to others. It gives you the realization of our shared humanity and interdependence. It changes how you interact.4
Strategy to Promote Asking for Help: You can model and involve your child in asking for help as well. But first, reflect on your own beliefs about asking for help. When do you ask for help? Who are you willing to ask? And what kind of help are you willing to receive? Once you’ve reflected on your own boundaries regarding seeking help, you will be able to model and talk it through with your children. Also for safety purposes, advise your children to look for caring Moms and Dads, store employees in uniform or police officers when you are not with them. Taking these few steps to prepare your child for helping and being helped can give them the confidence they need.
1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/helpful on 8-26-14.
2. Catalano, R. F., Haggerty, K. P., Oesterle, S., Fleming, C. B., and Hawkins, J. D. (2004). The importance of bonding to school for healthy development: Findings from the Social Development Research Group (pp. 252–261). Journal of School Health, 74(7).
3. Rogers, F. (2005). Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers; Things to Remember Along the Way. New York: Hyperion.