Helpfulness in an Unhappy World

Dr. Kristi Smith, Director of Education & Training   •   October 3, 2018

help • ful • ness    noun
the property of being helpful

help • ful    adjective
the property of providing useful service or assistance
According to researchers such as Piaget and Elkind, childhood is a time of extreme ego-centrism. Everyone will agree that self-centeredness seems to rule the mind of 2-year-old children as evidenced by their favorite word: "mine!"

The primary reason for this is that young children have difficulty understanding life from other someone else's perspective. While self-centeredness seems to be the ethos of childhood, most parents will tell you that their toddler loves helping them do little chores. Despite childhood self-centeredness, a recent study by Roth-Hananai revealed that helpfulness is a natural response, evident as early as infancy. A team of researchers found that babies under 12 months of age would try to help a stranger when struggling to get something out of reach.
Allowing children to help others even in simple ways is healthy and has been proven to develop positive emotions such as empathy and sympathy that counter self-centeredness. Happiness seems to be a trend in 2018. But, as ironic as it sounds, gaining happiness is increasingly being linked to helping others. Brain imaging proves that helping someone triggers the same endorphins linked to pleasure.

Parents can help their children become happier, more empathetic, and sympathetic by allowing them to help others. The key is NOT linking helping to a personal/tangible reward. Giving children something in exchange for helping undermines the whole process and changes it to "I do something, I get something" mentality. Verbal praise and talking about how good children feel when they help IS the reward and will help children feel accomplished.

Talk about how the person that received the help now feels. Discussions like these will internalize the helping process and make life-long impressions with positive feelings that will lead to happiness. Tangible rewards for helping will only leave a child wanting more toys, candy, etc. that they received in exchange of a perceived task to gain a prize. So, help children be happy by finding simple ways that they can help others and talk about the experience!
"Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it's pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful."
Character Values Count
Children's Lighthouse staff is dedicated to teaching the value of helpfulness through example in our local childcare centers. Character values have direct ties with our proprietary Lighthouse C.A.R.E.S.℠ curriculum and are incorporated into our classrooms through curriculum units such as cooperation, helping others, showing kindness, expressing gratitude, and recognizing and accepting differences.