“Clean your bedroom, NOW!!”
Every parent knows the frustration of getting kids to do their chores.
If only there was a magic word you could say that would turn them into compliant little angels.
A group of researchers in California wanted to know the influence of a word, or to put it more precisely, the grammatical application of a word, as applied to pre-school children.
"We were interested in a really subtle difference in wording, in language, and the way we refer to helping,” Dr. Christopher J. Bryan tells KTRH News. He, Allison Masters, and Gregory M. Walton conducted a study on childhood motivation titled “’Helping’ Versus ‘Being a Helper’: Invoking the Self to increase Helping in Young Children.”
Helper. Apparently with small children the word has magical properties. The findings have been published in the journal Child Development.
They took a group of pre-schoolers: kept some out as a control group and divided the rest in half.
The half was given the verb of “help”: “In the verb version, we talked to them about helping,” Bryan explains. “We said, ‘some children chose to help’, ‘you can help when someone has a job to do, you can help when someone needs things to be picked up or you could help when someone needs help.”
The other half was given the predicate noun “helper”: essentially the same verbiage was used but the word help was replaced with the suggestion of being a helper.
“What we found was that the children who had the conversation about being a helper helped between 22 and 29% more than the children who had had the conversation about helping.”
Researchers concluded that most children would like to have a positive self-image, and the word helper reflects positively on the kid’s character.
Bryan says anecdotally he has found the concept to work in practice on his three year old son. “I say, ‘would you please come and be my helper?’ and I find he responds really well to that.”