As a child psychologist, I could tell you all about the
positive outcomes of your child’s prosocial behaviors. (More on that here.)
It’s true, when children learn to help others, they gain valuable interpersonal
and perspective-taking skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.
as a mama, I can tell you that it just makes life easier to have a tiny (and
adorable) personal assistant lending a hand around the house!
So, how can we mamas promote helping behaviors in our little
ones? It’s all in the timing!
A recent study
from the University of California examined children’s helping behaviors from 11
to 24 months and found that most tots begin helping others around their first
birthday. What’s more? How we mamas choose to encourage helping behaviors (and when) is related to our children’s
decisions to help out.
The study, published in Child
Development, found that encouraging, praising, and thanking children for
their help around the first year (13-15 months) was related to more
helping behaviors around the second year (19-24 months).
Interestingly, praising and thanking children for their help
at 19 months was related to less
helping behavior at 24 months.
Positive responses to children’s help seem to promote more helping behaviors when our little ones are first learning these skills. But as our tots become more proficient at helping, reinforcement may not be needed as much and may undermine intrinsic desires to help.
Of course, if you are asking for help with
something that your older child has no interest in, it probably doesn’t hurt to
acknowledge their efforts. (Who wouldn’t appreciate a pat on the back for folding
that daily mountain of laundry?)
So, what are some different ways that our little ones can
help out around the home?
Putting clothes in the washer
Putting plates on the table
Putting toys away
Participating in getting dressed
Fetching needed items
At the end of the day, the best way to foster helping
behaviors is to promote intrinsic motivation to help. In order to encourage a
genuine desire to help, let’s take a minute to explore the mind of the toddler
(scary, I know)…
Why exactly do toddlers want
to help? According to the UC study, a few things may motivate our little
They enjoy helping because they get to be
involved with you, mama!
They love the feeling of accomplishing an assigned task (just like adults do)!
They enjoy mastering new motor skills (almost as
much as we enjoy them mastering the art of sweeping)!
They like imitating our actions, so joining in
on chores allows them to engage in the highest form of flattery.
When they get a bit older, they enjoy correcting
wrongs. If the TV remote is in the wrong spot, just watch your tot remedy this
By the time they are two, they have an intrinsic
desire to see people receive the help that they need…and what could be sweeter