The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

May 9, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Show kids it's OK to be helpful

JOPLIN, Mo. — I want my kids to grow up being willing to help others for no other sake than goodness, but sometimes when my kids come to me asking for help, my own response is less than gracious. On occasion, I've shamefully said to one or the other of my children that because they have working legs and capable hands, they can do something for themselves.

I never thought much about it until I heard my sweet little girl say to a friend who had asked for help, "You have two legs, you can go get it yourself."

It was appalling! The condescension and arrogance that came from her mouth Ñ which had in the beginning come from my mouth Ñ stopped my heart. I was reminded of the overpowering truth of raising kids: They repeat our modeled behavior whether we intend for them to do so or not.

I hope for my kids to grow into gracious helpers, but that's a trait that must be nourished from the beginning. It's a fine line to walk between encouraging helpfulness and demanding self-sufficiency.

Sometimes in an effort to teach our children independence, we can accidentally show them that other people can't be counted on to be helpful. They will learn this eventually just by the process of moving through the world. There are plenty of human beings who will not hesitate to think only of themselves.

But what about in our own homes? Isn't this the place we should refute the sometimes disheartening negativity of the world?

When my kids ask for help, I don't always need to teach self-sufficiency above all else. At the very least, children deserve to know that a request for help won't be met with shaming or blaming.

There's a time for gentle let-downs: "Sorry honey, I'm busy right now. You'll either have to wait or take care of it by yourself." There's a time for instruction: "Sure, I can help. And while I'm at it, let me show you how to do this, so you'll know for next time."

But there's also a time for kindness for its own sake.

Don't I sometimes ask my husband to bring me a glass of water, even though I'm capable of walking to the kitchen myself? Don't I sometimes feel overwhelmed by a large task and hope that somebody will offer their help? Wouldn't I ask parents or friends for help deciding on disciplinary measures or doctor's office recommendations?

Sometimes it's nice to be helped without judgment or thought of repayment. I like knowing that my husband will kill a spider for me without pointing out the irrationality of my fear. I imagine he appreciates knowing that when he's gagging at the prospect of a dirty diaper, I might step in and take care of it without (much) teasing.

If we want our kids to be willing to help others, they need to see us being willing to lay ourselves down for others even in the simplest situations. Then when somebody needs help, hopefully our children won't stop to ask why or if the person is being honest in their need, but will instead just decide to be helpful.

Not because it's necessary or required, but because it makes the world a nicer place.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,

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