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  • 'Please Help' Versus 'Please Be a Little Helper': Which One Does the Job?

    Words have an impact on your child's character development, so choose your them carefully.
    by Rachel Perez .
'Please Help' Versus 'Please Be a Little Helper': Which One Does the Job?
  • Pop quiz: Which of the two statements below will encourage your little tot to help with home chores?

    "Please help clean up this room."
    "Please be a little helper and clean up this room."

    A study in 2014 showed that the second statement will encourage your toddler to help. However, a new 2018 study suggested the first statement will work better not just in getting your child to help, but it may have a long-lasting impact on your child.

    In a press release, the new study, published in the journal Child Development, suggests that "using verbs to talk about actions with children, such as encouraging them to help, read, and paint, may help lead to more resilience following the setbacks that they inevitably experience rather than using nouns to talk about identities — for example, asking them to be helpers, readers, or artists."

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    Researchers at New York University (NYU) set up a series of experiments that asked 4- to 5-year-olds to be "helpers" or "to help." The tests were designed to let kids experience specific difficulties when trying to accomplish tasks.

    An example of a difficulty was one where the kids tried to move a box to another shelf. When they did so, the contents spilled all over the floor due to a faulty lock or hinge.

    Following such setback, the children who were asked "to help" were more likely to keep assisting in resolving the challenging situation, as they did in easy situations. The kids who were asked "to be helpers" helped during easy situations but rarely did something to help when the situation became challenging.


    "Using verbs to talk to children about behavior — such as 'you can help' — can lead to more determination following setbacks than using nouns to talk about identities — for instance, 'you can be a helper,'" Dr. Marjorie Rhodes, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study said.

    Another co-author of the study, NYU doctoral student Emily Foster-Hanson, added, "This research shows how talking to children about actions they can take can encourage more persistence following setbacks than talking to children about identities that they can take on."

    What other parents are reading

    Assigning young kids age-appropriate home tasks is their first venture to learning about responsibility and hard work. Using more proactive words can very well translate into more action (read: your kids willingly helping to do home chores).

    But don't limit this choice of words for chores. "Phrasing requests in terms of actions, instead of identity categories, might encourage children to view instances of difficulty as opportunities to learn rather than negative judgments of character," the authors wrote. Use it to encourage your child 'to read' or 'to fix' their bed or even just 'to build' a tower, or blocks or 'to paint' a picture.

    Think of it also as a way to instill and encourage growth-mindset. Instead of just being a helper, your toddler grows up knowing he can always do something no matter how easy or challenging the situation can be and no matter his goal is.

    The study's offers lessons that you can apply to your parenting now. Telling your kids what to do rather than what to be helps them learn persistence, hard work, and resilience, which are traits they will need to never give up on their dreams and achieve future success. It's definitely wouldn't hurt to try, right? 

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