How To Raise Helpful Kids

As parents who are both at home full time, I find that Anna & I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the design of a week. When should kid A take a nap? Who will make dinner on Thursday night? Each child seems to add exponentially to the complexity and number of decisions we need to make. I won’t try to make a stretch analogy to running a business or coaching an athletic team; a family shares some of these attributes but in amplified and nuanced ways. I don’t know of many CEOs that dress and make breakfast for their employees.

One of the goals we have is to train each kid to have the heart of a helper. When an older sibling can help a younger one get something, it makes our jobs that much easier. In my naivety, I thought that this helpful attitude would just materialize over time. I guess to some extent it has — the older ones do occasionally offer to do more but it’s not their natural inclination. In some cultures today and certainly in times past, the family was a unit with each person playing their role for the good of group. Today it can feel more like a collection of individuals than a team.

Part of this seems to be facilitated by the separation of kid worlds and adult worlds. Take my job for example (an adult world) that takes place exclusively via a small rectangular screen filled with zeroes and ones, flow charts, and data-heavy reporting. It’s a chaotic and confusing place for the adults, let alone my six-year-old. The work most of us do these days inaccessible; precluded by college degrees, technical training, and TPS reports. This means large times of the day where adults need to be separated from kids to focus and “get things done”. Contrast that with baker or farmer whose work is easy to understand and to help with.

So how can we help kids with being helpful? Two small steps to improving can be found this article: the first is spending more time including kids in helpful tasks even when adults would be 10x more efficient. An example would be letting a 4 year old fold some laundry even if it ends up looking more like a pile than a neat row. The second is giving kids small sub-tasks throughout the day. I.E. Asking for them to hand you a spoon while you are cooking. Eventually the kids will start to anticipate what you might need even without being asked.