Evidence That It Works
In a study, a diverse group of children between four and five years old were randomly assigned to hear researchers talk to them about helpfulness using “to help” language or “to be a helper” language. Next, the researchers surreptitiously rigged the children’s experiences with helping so that they failed in their attempts (for example, when children tried to put away a box of toys, the contents fell out because the bottom was loose). Then, the children had three more opportunities for helping without being explicitly asked, some of which were designed to be a little hard. While children in the “to help” group persisted in helping regardless of how difficult the scenarios were, children in the “to be a helper” group helped less when faced with more difficult scenarios.
Why Does It Matter?
Students can experience failure and mistakes when helping in their daily lives, like when they try to help pick up the art supplies the class just used and accidentally drop the color pencils on the floor, or when they try to help explain the content of the class to another student and end up causing a distraction in class. They can be sensitive when they fall short of their intentions and can interpret their shortcomings as suggesting that they don’t have what it takes “to be a helper.” They can identify as a “bad helper” or even a “non-helper” and be averse to trying again.
Inviting them simply “to help” might help them overcome these misgivings and persist at kind, helpful behavior.
By trying to help others, your students can build up their positive interactions and strengthen their social connections. School-age children who engage in kind acts are more well-liked by their peers and have improved well-being. The benefits of kindness are even seen as early as toddlerhood—young children are happier when giving to others than when receiving.