5 Tips On How To Encourage Your Toddler To Be Helpful

Can a very small child really be much help around the house? Here we explore the fascinating topic of “infant helping” and how kids learn to help at home, and elsewhere.


There are two basic theories on the subject:

  • People are generally disposed to help – by nature.
  • Helping is a learned behavior.

Yep. It’s the good old “nature/nurture” debate. Are we born as blank slates that learn behavior or are we born with innate behaviors? Of course, it is likely somewhere in between. Humans are social creatures so it follows that we innately help others but there is no denying that it is also learned behavior.

1Start young

I once taught 18-month-olds who could clear their own dishes, wipe down their area, sweep up around their seat and wash their hands pretty much independently every day after lunch. Kids can do small tasks from a very young age and the earlier you start encouraging helpful behaviors, the more natural they will be to your child. A one-year-old cannot take out the garbage but he or she can put his or her own garbage in the trash can – even it is with assistance from an adult.  Age-appropriate tasks will give them confidence and allow them opportunities for learning.

2Work on sharing

Sharing behaviors beget helpful behaviors. Babies pick up “helping-by-handing” behaviors through simply sharing. For example, “Can I please have your bib?” is a simple request but can be a big deal to an infant. When they hand it to you, they will feel accomplished.

3Encourage independence

Anyone who has ever praised a small child knows the type of effect it has on kids. Children thrive on praise. Independence and self-sufficiency will often lead to the ability, as well as a desire, to help.

4Show faith in them

Sometimes, we underestimate our kiddos. We don’t mean to but all parents do it. Our job is to protect them but, in so doing, we mustn’t stifle helpful and thoughtful behaviors. Many children love to help out around the house but parents will often assume that they are incapable of helping. This is not the case. While every kid is different, most kids that can walk and hold a rag can help wipe down a table or carry a plate to the sink.

5Ask and model

This goes back to #4 a bit. If you don’t ask your kids to do things (because you do not believe that they can do it or because you would rather do it yourself) then your child will not likely volunteer. Your child will get the message that you don’t want or need their assistance. In addition, modeling even the tiniest cooperative behaviors will have a large effect on a child. Kids do what they see their parents doing and will be much more ready to lend a hand if they see their parents being helpful.

Sometimes, the most important part of parenting is being your very best self. Work on your own helpfulness, ask your child for aid when you need it, include him or her as part of the “team” of the household. Trust them a bit and I will bet that your little one surprises you.

Jessica Gray
Jessica Gray lives in North Carolina with her husband and two little boys. She enjoys cooking, but she hates cleaning house. She's deeply passionate about kids and education - her experiences working with children as a teacher have been some of the most rewarding of her life. Writing has been a lifelong passion that started with notebooks, old scraps of paper, and journals. She loves to write informative and educational pieces for kids and adults.