Updated: Feb 10
WHY CHILDREN LOVE TO HELP
Rushing around my local supermarket without a basket- the ingredients for a curry balanced in my arms, I waited at the checkout. But my Greek-style yogurt could wait no longer, and threw itself onto the ground. The pot split and yogurt sludged across the floor-tiles. Everybody looked at me. I went behind the checkout- grabbed a cloth and bucket and wiped the yogurt away. I returned the bucket, and stepped back into line. The man in the queue behind me, gave me a look of admiration, a woman with a baby smiled. For a moment I felt like a superhero- a man of action. I had merely mopped-up some spilled yogurt. But I didn't ask the checkout person, or the duty manager- I simply acted.
We love to help. We love to act. Often, it's a confusion about the rules, and what is allowed that prevents people from getting involved. Health and safety, social niceties, and the belief that experts know better- prevent us from acting- from showing initiative.
Yesterday I organised games, music and stories for a children's party. I have a big colourful bag full of shakers and musical delights. At the end of my performance an 8 year old boy gathered up my instruments and returned them to my bag. Nobody asked him to help. He just acted. He was happy, connected, capable. We smiled at each other.
Do you remember a job you did as a child that felt big and important? I remember decorating an old shed with my sister. With paint scrapers in our hands, we looked determindely at the tatty old wall paper. This job was ours. We rose to the challenge. We felt strong and capable. As we scraped the paper from the walls it didn't stand a chance. We were excited to be left alone with a few tools and a clear goal.
I loved this task because it was mine. Challenging, yes- but within reach. It felt important, and I could do it. A task with value can help build a child's confidence. But it must also have a clear goal that the child can reach. Not all jobs will work. I didn't get excited about tidying my room or emptying the rubbish. As teachers and parents we can support our children by finding them meaningful tasks. You don't need loads- just one will do. The right task, at the right time- is a tremendous gift.
When I was s a school teacher I built a big outdoor oven with a class of teenagers. It was a hot June day, near the end of a long term-the summer holiday was in reach. I had two restless dyslexic boys who enjoyed causing chaos. They didn't want to join in on the outskirts. They wanted to be at the centre of things. If that meant mucking about-then so be it. On-going building work, meant that over the years an assortment of bricks had gathered around the school grounds. Mostly out of view.
When I gave the boys a wheel barrow and told them to gather all the stray bricks they were delighted. They spent hours dutifully wheeling heavy loads of dusty bricks.
Next, they dug, and built the foundation for the out-door oven. They were proud of their work. This job satisfied them. It built their confidence. Today, these so-called trouble makers have both found work that they love. One has graduated in Engineering from Cardiff University. As a hobby he takes apart old Landrovers, and rebuilds them. He phoned me recently for help lifting a gearbox out of an engine. The other boy, a few weeks ago, proudly showed me his BMW by Boscombe beach. He had lowered the wheels, added all sorts of go-faster gadgets. He works as an electrician and loves tinkering with cars. He waved goodbye and smiled as the powerful engine of his BMW roared. "See you soon," he said- a huge grin on his face.