You have at your disposal a powerful question that can strengthen your family relationships. It’s a simple question: “How can I help you?” Of course, there are variations:
“What can I do for you today?”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“What can I do to help?”
‘What would you like me to do?”
We underestimate the power of this little question, power that would benefit every family. Take a moment and consider its power for your family.
“How can I help you?” honors your family. It communicates our interest in our family members. It expresses how much we value them and their work. It reveals our interest in their lives and their work.
“How can I help you?” shares grace with your family. It shows your spouse, your children, and your parents that you care enough about their daily life and work to invest your time and energy in it. It means we will give up your desire to be in charge and let them be in charge, let them direct you in how you can help them.
“How can I help you?” promotes togetherness within your family. It opens the opportunity to work together.
“How can I help you?” communicates grace by opening the door for you to serve other family members.
Are you beginning to see the power of this question to strengthen your family relationships? By asking this question we honor our family, we show grace to our family, we promote togetherness with our family, and we open the door to service within our family. In other words, we lay several of the building blocks needed for a healthy family just by asking this simple question: “How can I help you?”
To truly experience the power of this question, I suggest a 30-day challenge. Every day for the next 30 days, ask a family member “How can I help you?” You could ask the same family member every day or you could ask a different family member each day. Either way, ask a family member this question every day for the next 30 days.
After 30 days, reflect. How has this impacted your relationship with your family? How has it changed the way you think of your family? How has it changed the way your family acts toward you and you toward them?
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the changes your family experiences because of this one simple question: “How can I help you?”
Family offers the soil in which we nurture one another’s sense of value and worth. That sounds kind of sentimental, doesn’t it? It’s also an obvious statement barely worth repeating. Nonetheless, it is true. But do you know what one major soil nutrient will contribute to your spouse’s and your children’s sense of value and worth? Well…there is more than one but this one has the power to enhance a person’s sense of worth and value more than you might imagine. In fact, it is essential in the nurturance of each family member’s mental and emotional health. It’s time we stop overlooking it and make sure the soil of our families is rich in this nutrient. It won’t be difficult because this nutrient is easily added to your home and family. It is simple, can be added daily, and has amazing power. What is it? Gratitude. All you need to do is express gratitude and thanks. Sounds too easy to be true, doesn’t it? However, a series of four studies shows it is true. Gratitude does nurture value and worth in your family members. Let me briefly share what these four studies revealed about the impact of gratitude.
People who received thanks showed more willingness to continue helping the person who gave them thanks. In fact, the expression of gratitude “more than doubled the likelihood that helpers would provide assistance again.”
People who received thanks showed a greater willingness to help a third party after receiving thanks. They were more willing to help a person other than the one who thanked them.
People who received thanks, worked longer to help the one who thanked them. They increased their productivity by more than 50% and spent 15% more time helping.
Moreover, analysis of these findings reveals that when a person receives thanks, they feel more socially valued. This increase in feeling socially valued led to their greater willingness to continue helping and to persist longer in their helping activities.
Gratitude is powerful. It enhances our family members sense of personal value…and their willingness to help others. So, if you want your family members to help more within the family, help those outside the family, and do it more often, thank them for their contributions to the home. Share gratitude. Vocalize your gratitude for all they do. They will know you value them and their help. As a result, they will help more people, more often, and with greater effort.
Couldn’t the world use a little more kindness these days? I know I’m in favor of increasing the kindness around here—in my home and my community. And, I have a plan to do it, starting with my family. I’m going to show kindness to as many people as I can every day. I’m going to engage in simple things—things like holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you,” helping to carry groceries, offering assistance whenever I can, smiling—you get the idea, simple acts of kindness.
You may be asking, “What good will one person showing kindness do?” First, it will do wonders in our families. Even more, as we practice kindness in our families, it will spread beyond our families to our communities because kindness is contagious. A recent review of 88 studies involving 25,354 participants over the last decade revealed that being nice to others is highly contagious. Note those last two words…”highly contagious.” This review pointed out a couple of important facts about the contagion of kindness.
Helping others increases our happiness more than helping ourselves does. Interesting, isn’t it? Start practicing kindness toward others. It’s for your own good.
Seeing other people benefit from kindness motivates us to share kindness more than receiving kindness ourselves. So, let your children see you being kind to their other parent. Let your spouse see you being kind to your children. Let your family see you being kind to those in the community. It will motivate them to engage in acts of kindness as well.
People don’t just imitate acts of kindness they see others perform. They modify, improvise, and adjust those acts of kindness. They create their own acts of kindness. Seeing kindness inspires them to engage in kindnesses beyond what they saw.
Yes. I am going to do it. I am going to increase my kindness within my family and my community. My spouse and children will witness this kindness and be inspired to engage in their own acts of kindness. I will witness their acts of kindness and be inspired to engage in even more kindness. The upward cycle will begin. Even our neighbors will witness our kindness and catch it. The contagion will grow and perhaps, in time, we will have a community of people engaging in kindness. Wouldn’t that be a change? A miracle? A relief! Will you join me?
What can we learn about compassion from geometry and infants? Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev answered that question by showing two videos to a group of 6-month-old infants. In the first video, a square figure with eyes climbed a hill to meet a round figure with eyes. They go down the hill together, their eyes filled with happiness and positive feelings. In the second video, the round figure hits and bullies the square figure until it goes down the hill alone, showing distress by crying and falling over. After seeing these two videos, the infant was given the opportunity to choose one of the figures, they chose the “bullied” square figure over 80% of the time. This suggests they felt an “empathic preference,” compassion, for the bullied figure.
Ironically, in a second experiment, the square figure met the round figure on the top of the hill and went down the hill in distress even though the round figure did NOT bully or treat the square unkindly. The square went down the hill in distress for no apparent reason in this experiment. In this case, the infants showed no preference for the square figure or the round figure. In other words, their “empathic preference” was based on context. They had compassion for the bullied figure when distress by some action, but not for the figure that exhibited distress for no apparent reason.
If 6-month-old infants showed over
an 80% preference (compassion) for the bullied victim, why does it seem we
don’t see compassion for the victim at least 80% of the time in the adult
world? And how can we, as parents, nurture that compassion in our children? I’m
not sure…the research didn’t address that question. But…perhaps we can make an
educated guess about a couple possible reasons.
Maybe the media only reports on that smaller percentage of non-compassionate acts. Perhaps compassion is exhibited over 80% of the time, but compassion doesn’t make for good ratings. So, we witness the less than 20% of non-compassionate acts occurring in the world in the headlines, the frontpage stories, and the lead stories. If this is the case, we, as parents need to help our children see the compassion in the world. We need to intentionally point out the helpers in the current world and throughout history.
Perhaps parents don’t model and encourage compassion. Could it be that many parents promote a “dog eat dog” world, a world of limited resources for which we must compete? Perhaps our actions suggest that “only a few can get the prize” and nothing short of “the prize” is worth having. At best, we promote ignoring the other guy or, worse, pushing the other guy out of the way to get the limited resource or cherished prize. If this is true, we need to adjust our view of the world. We need to realize that “the prize” is not necessarily the trophy for coming out as “number one” but the glory of playing an honorable game, which at times may result in a prize. We need to nurture the understanding that resources are plentiful when we use them wisely, share them generously, and encourage one another genuinely.
Let me share a few practical actions
we can take to nurture compassion in our children.
Model compassion. Our children’s compassion begins at home. They learn how to interact with the world by watching us interact with the world. Let them see you act in compassion toward others. Let them see kindness in you.
“Look for the helpers” in the present world and in history. Consider not just the atrocity of slavery, but the compassion of those who supported the underground railroad. Don’t just speak of the horror of the holocaust, praise the Righteous Among the Nations as well. Rather than simply talk about various injustices in the world, “look for the helpers” and support them in word and deed. Look for acts of kindness or compassion in the world and point them out to your children.
Volunteer. One way to support the “helpers” is to become one yourself. Look for opportunities to volunteer as a family. Consider ways you can reach out in kindness to those around you and involve your children in the act. They will learn the joys of compassion and it will become a lifelong style of interaction.
Have you ever asked this question?
You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment
builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask
yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe
you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper.
Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest.
Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around
here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over
who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around
here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very
words. One day, however, I had an
epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind.
It’s my fault. My frustration and fear about
“having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,”
I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became
resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my
mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to
make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me
share what I learned.
I do not
live with mind readers. No one in
my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have
a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like
to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I
haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need
help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do
you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK,
I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In
frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical
tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?”
“I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m
cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching
TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.” Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the
good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family,
but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know,
radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I
need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a
break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell
to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the
household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the
opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want
to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through
service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity
because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their
help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our
I need to be
honest with myself. To be completely honest with you
and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything
around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house
as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household. I need to develop the habit of noticing what
they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of
gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.
Four realization and four
actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I
practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting
help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling