Mama’s little helper: How to promote helping behavior in your 1-year-old

Want your child to help out more with everyday tasks? It’s all in the timing.      

Mama’s little helper:
How to promote helping behavior in your 1-year-old

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?


Sweeping floors


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

dire situation.


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

than that?

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