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The Importance of Raising Helpful Kids


Parents are responsible to God for the way that they raise their families. The Family: A Proclamation to the World includes principles which are important for parents to teach their kids, among them: “parents have the sacred duty to…teach [their children] to love and serve one another” (¶ 6).

What Helping Does for the Individual

There are many benefits to individuals who are helpers. Research finds that those who help others are able to manage their own emotions 1 and have higher levels of self-esteem.2 They exhibit lower levels of aggression and depression.3 They are preferred by their peers.4 Clearly, it is in the child’s best interest to become a helper.

What Helping Does for the Family

As families are comprised of individuals, it follows that if individuals within the family are experiencing the benefits of behaving in a helpful way, it will benefit the entire family system.5 Indeed, helpful behavior toward members of one’s family is associated with positive relationships among those family members over time.6 And parents treating their children kindly appears to encourage that child’s future helping behavior toward others.6

The following are some ideas for parents to help their children become helpers:

  • Establish a warm relationship with your child. First and foremost, for good parenting to take place and for a child to be open to what a parent says to them, the relationship must be warm and nurturing. When that relationship is established, not only will children be more likely to be helpful,7 but the mistakes you make as a parent (because all parents make mistakes!) will be less harmful for your child.8
  • Set the example. Children are much more likely to do what they’ve seen done before. If you set an example by being kind, attentive, and helpful to your spouse, children, extended family, neighbors, friends, and strangers, your children are likely to follow suit.
  • Make helping fun. If helping out around the house or performing service for a neighbor feels like a chore, children are going to react to it like they do chores—with griping. On the other hand, serving others can be turned into a fun activity by smiling, laughing and turning tasks into games. Blast some good music, and emphasize how the helping service made the recipient feel. Then it no longer becomes dreaded chores, but joyful service.
  • Encourage seeing things from another’s point of view. One of Jesus teachings was “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12)—meaning that we should treat others how we want to be treated. Learning to take other’s perspectives in a situation can contribute to helpful behavior.9 For example, if someone is getting picked on, we can understand from their perspective how it might feel if that were us getting picked on. We might be more likely to help out.
  • Help children recognize small acts of helping. Sometimes we think of helping as a giant service project. While those are great opportunities, there are plenty of small, everyday acts of kindness that can bless your child and your family if the opportunities are recognized and seized. For example, making a sibling’s lunch, brushing a sister’s hair, stopping by to say hi to grandma, taking out the trash, setting the table, holding a door open for someone. If children think helping is only good when it’s big, they’re not likely to be motivated to be helpful very often and as a result both your child and the family could miss out on the benefits of helping listed above.

Other Helping Resources

For additional ideas about promoting prosocial behavior see: (9 Ways for Parents to Promote Prosocial Behavior in Early Childhood)

For ideas about ways you can serve as a family:

It is important for parents to remember that, however good of parents they may be, they are not in complete control of their children’s behavior. No, the way children act is determined by a complex mixture of what they’ve been taught, what tendencies they were born with, how peers treat them, their relationships with their siblings, the culture you belong to, and even what time period they were born into.10 So it is important that parents take responsibility in teaching their children to become helpers, but at the same time not to blame themselves if the way their children act isn’t exactly as they might’ve hoped.

Helping is so important for individuals and families that the writers of the Proclamation felt the need to specify once again the significance of being kind and helpful to others: “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.” (¶ 7). Many of these—repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, and compassion in particular—are either helpful behaviors or contribute to helpful behaviors.

Written by K. Workman, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. May 1, 2021.


  1. Caprara, G. V., Alessandri, G., & Eisenberg, N. (2012). Prosociality: The contribution of traits, values, and self-efficacy beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1289.
  2. Memmott-Elison, M. K., Holmgren, H. G., Padilla-Walker, L. M., & Hawkins, A. J. (2020). Associations between prosocial behavior, externalizing behaviors, and internalizing symptoms during adolescence: A meta-analysis. Journal of Adolescence, 80, 98-114.
  3. Flynn, E., Ehrenreich, S., Beron, K., Underwood, M. (2015). Prosocial behavior: Long-term trajectories and psychosocial outcomes. Social Development, 24(3), 462-482.
  4. Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2000). Prosocial foundations of children's academic achievement. Psychological Science, 11(4), 302-306.
  5. Kerr, M. E., Bowen, M., & Kerr, M. E. (1988). Family evaluation. WW Norton & Company.
  6. Padilla‐Walker, L. M., Dyer, W. J., Yorgason, J. B., Fraser, A. M., & Coyne, S. M. (2015). Adolescents' prosocial behavior toward family, friends, and strangers: A person‐centered approach. Journal of Research on Adolescence25(1), 135-150.
  7. Carlo, G., White, R. M., Streit, C., Knight, G. P., & Zeiders, K. H. (2018). Longitudinal relations among parenting styles, prosocial behaviors, and academic outcomes in US Mexican adolescents. Child Development, 89(2), 577-592.
  8. Darling, N. & Steinberg, L., (1993). Parenting style as context: An integrative model. Psychological Bulletin, 113(3), 487-496.
  9. Carlo, G., Knight, G. P., McGinley, M., Goodvin, R., & Roesch, S. C. (2010). The developmental relations between perspective taking and prosocial behaviors: A meta-analytic examination of the task-specificity hypothesis. In B. W. Sokol, U. Müller, J. I. M. Carpendale, A. R. Young, & G. Iarocci (Eds.), Self and social regulation: Social interaction and the development of social understanding and executive functions (p. 234–269). Oxford University Press.
  10. Eisenberg, N., & Mussen, P. H. (1989). The roots of prosocial behavior in children. Cambridge University Press.