Ways to be Helpful

If you have young children, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed their inclination to be helpful: the wish to help put away groceries, to sweep the floor, and to use paper towels to clean up  spills. Yet, often times, children can forget the things we expect from them: picking up their toys, being kind to their family, etc…. These seemingly simple tasks and actions need to be defined for our children. Providing pictures of helpful images is a method we can employ that is congruent with young children’s brain development. When we invite children to focus their attention toward what we are projecting, other stimuli in the child’s mind are taken out of focus. (Slavin, R.E., 2009). In classrooms, we refer to such a display as “Ways to Be Helpful Board.”

Ways to Be Helpful Boards meet our children’s needs in many ways:

  • They define what being “kind” and “nice” look like through images. Adults know what being kind looks like because we have the benefit of previous experiences.

  • They provide young children with authentic examples, and imagery.

  • They are much more appropriate for activating responses from children, because they spotlight the behavior/actions that are expected.

  • They can capture what a clean room, closet, or desk looks like. Often times, the organizational aspect of cleaning can be daunting to children.

  • Through practice, they teach children to adopt a positive outlook; when we train children to look for what to do and what being helpful looks like, we can set them up for a lifetime of focusing on the positive and what they want, versus ruminating over the negative or what they do not want to happen!

So, how do I implement this in my home, or classroom?

Start with pictures of your children engaged in helpful tasks. Once you begin taking pictures, you may find that helpful acts are abundant in your home and classroom! Helpful items and language can look and sound like this:

  • A child is picking up errant items off of the floor: “You picked up the crayons, so our floor would be safe. That was helpful!”

  • A child hands a coat to his sister: “You handed Mary’s coat to her, so she would be warm. That was helpful!”

  • A child closes the door after coming into the house/classroom: “You closed the door, so the dog/cat wouldn’t get outside. That was helpful!”

Ways to Be Helpful Boards can be fashioned out of poster board, magnetic boards, posted on refrigerators, or bulletin boards. Consider continuing this practice, taking pictures, and providing new pictures as helpful acts are continuing to emerge. Older pictures can be saved and made into “Ways to Be Helpful” books. These books can be stored in children’s bedrooms, in literacy areas, or other areas where your children spend a lot of time.

Essentially, “Ways to Be Helpful” boards and books highlight the positive, and tell children, “I believe in you!” With practice, we can give our children the gift of believing in themselves as capable, caring individuals!



Slavin, R.E. (2009). Educational psychology: theory and practice. (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
For more information regarding Loving Guidance and ways to be helpful, review the Power of Attention at: http://consciousdiscipline.com/about/seven_powers_for_conscious_adults.asp

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