Every afternoon, when I begin to make dinner, I hear a familiar clatter as my 3-year old eagerly drags her stool across the wooden floor.
“Can I help?” she asks, excitement in her voice. Wanting to take advantage of her helpful spirit, I usually allow her to pour something into the bowl or stir. While I appreciate her sweetness, allowing my little one to “help” can sometimes be more work than doing it myself. Nevertheless, I want to make the most of her desire to help now so she will want to be a helper her whole life.
Here are four ways to encourage helpfulness in your young child:
Encourage. When you notice your little one being a helper, praise him. Say, “Wow! Thank you for helping your brother pick up his toys. You’re such a good helper.” Because correction is often a big part of raising young children, encouraging their helpful tendencies can provide you with many positive interactions each day.
Engage. As I mentioned, sometimes allowing little ones to help with chores can be a chore. Don’t let that stop you. Find kid-sized chores your child can do and expand her responsibilities as she grows. You can also look for opportunities to serve others as a family so that helpfulness is a natural part of your family culture.
Expect. Along with encouraging helpfulness and engaging in service opportunities with your child, set an expectation that your child be a helper. Read and discuss a few verses that talk about helping others and being kind, such as Acts 20:35, 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and Galatians 5:22. Have him make suggestions of how he can help others. (For example, he could help a teacher clean up toys at the end of class.)
Enable. We tend to think of enabling as a bad thing, but a toddler can’t exactly drive herself to a homeless shelter to serve. In order for your child to grow in helpfulness, you must be an enabler. When Shae’s 4-year-old son Spencer told her that he wanted to give a house to every homeless person in their city, she helped him and his older brother, Brayden, 6, come up with a doable plan. Since they couldn’t give houses, they began giving sleeping bags.
Shae helped her sons collect money to purchase the bags and drove them to downtown Portland, Oregon, to hand them out. Now ages 12 and 14, the brothers continue to operate their sleeping bag ministry. “They come up with new and creative ways to raise money every year,” Shae says. “Last year they had a babysitting night and babysat 10 kids for 3 hours.” Brayden and Spencer have handed out over 1,000 sleeping bags, and it all began when their mom enabled her sons’ giving spirits.
My 3-year old may not be able to do much now, but by encouraging her desire to help, I can lead her toward a lifelong love of service.
Dr. Stanley talks about the qualities those with the gift of service exhibit in his article "The Gift of Service."