Learning to appreciate another person's needs requires that children receive instruction that encourages helpful thinking patterns, which can make the habit of helpfulness become ingrained in a child's mind. Parents make their job easier when their children learn to pitch in to help others, whether at home, school or the community. Making it fun can engage your preschooler's interest and motivate her to be excited and eager about helping others.
Setting the Example
Preschoolers are like sponges, soaking up and imitating what they see. When they see you regularly practicing helpfulness, it influences their awareness of how the world can work. Let them see you holding doors for others, helping an older person carry groceries to his car, picking up trash wherever you find it, taking meals to the aged or sick, offering rides to people without transportation, and helping neighbors or friends with yard work or home projects. Show your children through your actions that helpfulness is more than just words with you. Reading and discussing stories about helpfulness can also help preschoolers connect with the emotions behind helping others.
Age-appropriate chores teach children that every member of the family must contribute to make life easier on everyone. They can develop a sense of belonging and pride in being important enough to make a contribution to the family. A picture chore chart serves as a daily reminder of how the child can help the family. Some preschool age-appropriate chores include making his bed, getting dressed, picking up toys, putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, feeding and watering pets, dusting, setting and clearing the table, helping prepare food, carrying light sacks of groceries or matching socks in the laundry. Be generous with compliments and credits to give him a sense that his contributions were worthwhile and important to someone besides himself.
Family Community Service
When your family makes a habit of volunteering to serve together in the community, you communicate just how seriously you take helping others. Volunteering opens up a world beyond themselves where children can make a difference and gain the self-confidence of being needed. Even small children can clean up litter or make decorations for a senior center or nursing home. Adopt a needy family and let your preschoolers help pack and deliver a food box. Talk with charities or churches about shut-ins that would love a visit from a child to brighten their day. Check with a nursing home or senior center about "adopt-a-grandparent" opportunities. Local parks and recreation departments and environmental organizations can hook your family up with tree plantings or beautification projects where your preschooler can help by digging in the dirt.
Crafts and Songs
Preschoolers love to repeat what they hear so a catchy tune is just the thing to keep the idea of helping others running frequently in their mind. One example is Kids' Sunday School Place's, "I'm a Little Helper" song to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot": "I'm a little helper, short and sweet! Here is my dust cloth and broom to sweep. When I get all ready, watch me go, I do my work for Jesus, don't you know!" Parents can modify the words to suit their own values and beliefs. A helping hands craft can serve as a visual reminder to be helpful for the whole family. Trace your preschooler's hands several times and help her cut out enough to form into a wreath or make a painted handprint poster. Label either craft with a caption such as "I can help!" or "I'm a good helper."
- Valley Parent Magazine: Teaching Helpfulness
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Helping Others
- Focus on the Family: Age-Appropriate Chores
- Kids' Health: Community Service: A Family's Guide to Getting Involved
- Sunday School Crafts: Helping Hands Wreath
- Kids Sunday School Place: I'm a Little Helper
- little helping hands image by Renata Osinska from Fotolia.com