“I don’t want to put my shoes in the cubby!” my three-year-old shouted. “I don’t want to be helpful!”  At first, I doubted if The Helpful Experiment was actually going to work.

It all started six months ago when I was gritting my teeth and clenching my fists about putting little shoes in the cubby for the one hundredth time, picking dirty clothes up off the floor for the one thousandth time, and putting books in the toy bin for the one millionth time. 

Something needed to change. There had to be a better way of getting my kids to do what I asked them to do without getting angry, yelling, or punishing – without time-outs, chore charts, rewards, or even bribery.

Was it possible to teach my kids to be helpful – just to be helpful?

The science teacher in me and the mom who wants to raise helpful kids in me was on a mission to train my kids to choose to be helpful around the house not because they got something in return, but because it was the right thing to do – the kind and loving thing to do. But how the heck was I going to do that? Ah ha! I got it! The Golden Rule.“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” If I wanted my kids to be more helpful, I had to be more helpful.

But would it work? If I started being more helpful towards my kids, would they follow my lead and finally put their shoes in their cubby once and for all for cryin’ out loud? Seriously though, it wasn’t all about getting them to put their shoes in their cubby. It was about a change in their attitude – a long-term vision of teaching them to see the value of helping others – just to be helpful!

And The Helpful Experiment began.

Every day, I used the word “helpful” over and over. I let them know when I was being helpful and I would applaud them anytime they chose to be helpful. Instead of getting angry at how slowly my oldest was getting ready for school, I would ask him, “How can I be helpful so we can be on time?”

All throughout the day, I would say:

  • “Mommy put your shoes in your cubby…just to be helpful.”
  • “Mommy put your dirty clothes in your laundry basket…just to be helpful.”
  • “Mommy decided to be helpful and pick up your books for you.”
  • “Mommy chose to be helpful and clean up your room for you.”

At first, I’m sure they were thinking: “Alright, who kidnapped mommy?” But soon, I noticed a change, a shift in attitude and a new sense of teamwork and helpfulness. Plates were being taken to the sink – just to be helpful. Tables were getting set – just to be helpful. Family rooms were being cleaned up – just to be helpful.

My two older kids were really stepping up their helpfulness game. My three-year-old, however, was still not fully on board, but he was noticing. Just yesterday, he left his shoes on the floor and said “Mommy, will you put my shoes in the cubby for me just to be helpful?”  And I did. 

Just as I predicted, a spirit of helpfulness started to fill my home. But what surprised me the most was how much a spirit of helpfulness started to fill my heart! I discovered a new joy and purpose in serving my family. I was going out of my way to be helpful – no gritted teeth – no clenched fists. 

Now, I put shoes in the cubby for the one hundredth time with a smile. I pick dirty clothes up off the floor for the one thousandth time with pleasure. And I put books in the toy bin for the one millionth time with glee. Well, maybe not all the time, but I am certainly having more fun finding ways to bless my kids – just to be helpful. 

Don’t worry. I still expect them to be responsible and learn to do things for themselves, but it’s different now. My kids feel more empowered when I give them the chance to be helpful, and they are more encouraged when they see me being helpful too!

Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  You got it, Gandhi.

If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”  Right on, Michael. 

The Helpful Experiment worked. If I wanted to make a change in my home, I had to be the first to change. The Helpful Experiment isn’t just an experiment anymore – it’s our new way of life.

Can you imagine a world where The Helpful Experiment was everyone’s way of life?

Because, by the way, guess what three-year-old just put his shoes in the cubby for the very first time… “just to be helpful.”

Christine Leeb

Christine Leeb--Speaker and Christian Family Coach specializing in Parenting and Child Discipline.  Founder of Real Life Families--a non-profit organization building better families through free classes and resources.  Mother to three awesome (and exhausting) children from whom she shamefully hides brownies.  Wife to one patient (and polar-opposite) husband with whom she constantly quotes "Friends".  www.RealLifeFamilies.org