This Simple Language Trick Will Make Your Toddler Less Of A Self-Centered Jerk

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toddler-helpingParenting; you’re doing it wrong. Don’t worry, I am too. Luckily there are researchers who essentially use children as lab rats so we parents can actually learn something about human behavior while we help shape the behavior of our own children. A study, published this week in the journal Child Development, uncovered a special language trick will make your toddler more helpful around the house:

Use the right words. Preferably, more nouns.

Researchers took 150 children and divided them into groups. The first group heard helping described as a noun: “Some children are helpers.” The second group heard helping described as a verb: “Some children choose to help.” The third group didn’t hear any “help” talk at all. Next, the kids starting playing and researchers set up opportunities for them to help.

From Today Moms:

Children who heard helping described as a noun (i.e. “some children are helpers”) were 29% more likely to help the experimenter than children who heard helping described as a verb (“i.e. “helping.”) In fact, kids who heard about helping as a verb didn’t help any more than kids who never heard a talk about helping at all.

Dr. Christopher Bryan, lead author of the study, thinks the kids are more likely to help if spoken to this way, because it affects their identity:

Basically, when you use noun-words like “helper” you invite the child to see themselves as someone good. “People of all ages care about being a good person and being a good person means behaving like a good person,” he says, “so when you frame behaviors as being representative of who you are, people will use those opportunities to show they are a good person.”

I wonder if it would work with other actions?

Some children are poopers in the potty!

Some children are eaters!

Some children are nappers!

Hmm, maybe not. But it’s an interesting concept, one I’ll be trying today. As I survey my living room, I see ample opportunity for my child to be a “helper.” Somebody had the bright idea of giving a three-year-old an entire huge box of crayons to color with. Bryan warns that you shouldn’t take your word experiments too far – pre-school aged children have a fragile sense of identity. You should make sure you use this wording to refer to actions, not talents:

“I try to make sure that I don’t use it to describe things that my kid has no control over,” he said. Existing research, for example, found that kids who heard about “being a good drawer” versus “drawing” were more likely to avoid drawing after they experienced failure.

(photo: George Muresan/ Shutterstock)