When you’re busy, overwhelmed and doing a lot, day in, day out, one of the best things you can experience is someone being helpful. By inviting our children to be connected to us through sharing in daily tasks and duties, we are doing our part to socialize healthy individuals before letting them loose on the world.
For much of human history, families have been really helpful to one another. If you look back to farms and agricultural life, parents had kids to support the family way of life on the farm. Kids made things possible by taking care of livestock, clearing fields, and tending to the other children. Being helpful was at the core of what made a family work.
And something really amazing has been happening, especially in the Western world, where families are having more affluence, and more opportunities for their children to do less. Parents are finding themselves more overwhelmed; kids seem to be more stressed and unhappy despite the fact that they have more things and more opportunities.
Parents Are Doing Too Much
I was on a call the other day with a family and I said to them, point blank, “Would you like your kids to be helpful?” And the mom paused this really profound pause and said, “Sometimes I see other kids being helpful to their parents and I just wish and dream that my kids would do that.“ So I thought: Wow. Maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe the value that is missing from our culture that could shift our happiness factor is helpfulness.
How do we bring helpfulness back into our family’s life? How do we connect and be there for one another in a way that feels really helpful?
I don’t know about you, but when I’m helping another human being, I feel really good. In fact, I like to be put to work whenever I’m new somewhere or if I’m a guest in someone’s house. I do whatever I can to be helpful so that I can feel more comfortable. I can feel part of the unit.
I want this feeling for our children as well, for them to truly enjoy being of service. I like to think of what every parent wants to hear when their child is a guest somewhere: “They were so helpful at dinner, and even helped clean up after everyone was playing for a while.” Supporting our children’s natural orientation to be helpful and part of the group will continue with them wherever they go.
For example, a child who was helpful at home through their childhood may go on to their first job asking, “How can I help?” instead of standing around waiting for someone to give them an order or a task to do. This way of being prepares our children for life skills well beyond home life
Being Helpful Can Improve Family Dynamics
One of the new values that I’m currently concentrating on as I work with families is this value of helpfulness. And I’m not just talking about making kids do chores and work from a place of obedience or a place of consequence. I’m talking about true helpfulness. A way that parents and kids can feel some satisfaction that they are contributing to the whole, that they are part of the family unit.
I think one of the medicines that will be a boon to families is to re-enlist each other in being helpful. I see it on my trip, in my own family. Karuna, my oldest daughter, has been so helpful. There are times when she comes out and says, “Dad, do you want me to help hook up the electrical for the trailer? Do you want me to crank down the stabilization jacks?” There are all kinds of little things she’s offering to do. It makes me feel really supported because I’ve got so much I’m managing in my head, and extra hands on deck really do make a difference.
Furthermore, I see that it makes her feel really part of the experience. The feeling of being helpful is driving her and connecting her to the whole family or pack. I think family cultures can benefit greatly from instilling this value into your culture as a unit, because it is unifying!
Helpful Kids Care More About Their Surroundings
To see how powerful being helpful is, look at children in school. You see small children using their little brooms and dustpans because little kids love being helpful. Go to any preschool across the world and you’ll find kids who want to help their teachers. But for some reason, as those kids get older, we strip away the helpfulness. We make kids sit in their desks. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to be helpful at school that empower students, and make them feel connected to the school. So what do kids do? They vandalize the school. They disrespect it. They do the same thing at home.
A lot of these problems could be solved through finding unique and creative ways to give kids an opportunity to be helpful. This doesn’t mean you need to make your kids sweep or wash dishes. If your kids are older, ages 8 to 15, be creative. What are the ways they want help? How can they contribute to the home? Are they interested in helping with meal prep? I know kids who love to cook and so they are very helpful in their homes and actually make dinner a couple times a week.
In other families, kids are more makers and they want to work in the shed with their dad or mom building things that the family needs. Or maybe they want to watch their siblings. Come up with a list of things, especially for older kids that they want to do. This is not about forcing anyone to work—being helpful is not a punitive thing, it’s something that you want to do.
I love to say to my daughter, “Hey, do you want to help me dry the dishes?” And when she says yes, she’s opting into it. I’m not forcing her. She could stop at anytime. But in being helpful, we’re together. We’re having beautiful discussions. We’re feeling connected. And it’s optional. Once again, I’m not trying to create model where being helpful is just a punitive chore or a consequence, but a way in which a kid gets to be part of the whole.
And maybe, just maybe, some of your own overwhelm will reduce and you’re ability to connect and be present with your kid will increase. Then, instead of the need to buy a new thing or class for your kid, you will find in this togetherness what you were truly after, which is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be connected.
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