How We See Ourselves


Image by cohdra at morgueFile, used by permission

I’ve been volunteering at my daughter’s preschool all morning, where I got to observe first-hand the value of “being a helper.”  At every turn, the teacher was asking kid to be good helpers, good listeners, good friends–an interesting thing to note after reading this NPR article this morning.

In the article, the author, Maanvi Singh, notes the power of asking kids “please be a helper” rather than “please help me.”  Researcher and psychologist Christopher Bryan has published a study in Child Development this week in which he notes, “While the children were playing, an experimenter gave them various opportunities to lend a hand. Preschoolers who got the talk about being helpers actually dropped their toys to offer aid 20 percent more often than kids who heard a lesson about helping.”

Apparently, it even works on adults.  “Being a voter” is more important than voting.”

Erik Erikson defined the third stage of development as “initiative versus guilt.”  In other words, children about the age of three begin expanding their abilities, learning new vocabulary, or working on projects alone or with families.  Certainly, there are some cultural differences around the world; however, in the United States, where we are inclined to offer choices in parenting (“Do you want to wear the white shirt or the black one?”), children begin to develop a strong sense of themselves from a young age.

However, through this, Erickson noted that children’s beliefs about themselves are not always realistic.  How many times have I asked my preschooler, “Do you need help pouring that juice?” and to have her decline—only to then spill juice all over the counter?

Eventually we figure out that we can’t do everything.  But it’s super important to have this attitude when you are 3—think of all the new skills a child that age has to develop.  If they think they’re not even capable of doing it, they might not ever even try.

As adults, we all go through periods of self-doubt.  Yet one more thing my kids teach me, when I remember to learn from them—the power of seeing myself as a “risk-taker,” so that I can have the courage to fail, if it means opening myself up to succeed.

Oh, and I also need to remember to ask them to be my helpers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *