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The Helper’s High

A concerning study


As we all know, kids are acutely aware of discrepancies between what adults say and what adults do. Whenever we claim that we prioritise our kids’ happiness and moral values, such as being caring and kind, do we take a moment and think if we really support them in developing them?

A recent study showed that there is a significant gap between what adults say and what children hear. When asked, the vast majority of students stated that parents and teachers alike prioritise their achievements over their caring, and are more likely to agree with the statement that both adult parties are more proud of them when they do well in school than if they are a caring community member. (The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values)


When children perceive the world as a place where being caring and kind is a chore, we are sure to expect destructive results: bullying, low levels of empathy, depression and anxiety to name just a few.

"the vast majority of students stated that parents and teachers alike prioritise their achievements over their caring"

What can we do as teachers?


In one experiment, young children were given crackers and were asked to share some of their food with a puppet who “ate” them and said “yum”. Researchers found that giving food to the puppet filled the children with far more joy than receiving them did. In fact, they were the happiest when the crackers they offered came from their own bowl rather than from somewhere else. In psychology, this is called the helper’s high.




It is important for us as educators to promote this kind of high in every possible way. A few tips that can help you steer their (and their parents’) attention from achievement to moral values:




  • Stop giving scores and rewarding straight-A students solely based on their school performance. Start rewarding good behaviour instead.

  • Ask parents to do away with questions like “How did the test go?”. Instead, ask them to replace them with questions such as “Who do you like most in your class? Why?”, “What are you most proud of today?”.

  • Encourage collaborative work and reinforce the belief that working with each other we can achieve greater things than if we competed against each other.

  • Set strong moral role models. Help and collaborate with other teachers whenever possible and explain to your students why this is beneficial for them and you as well.

  • Be open to listen to your students’ feelings and ideas and make time for that, even if you need to follow a strict lesson plan.

  • Introduce the word ‘yet’. There’s no reason to stress over academic performance so much. Everything they are struggling with, is just something they are not very good at yet, but they can absolutely do it. Encourage them to help each other and believe in each other. Be their No 1 supporter, too!

  • Help them to cope with destructive feelings, such as anger, shame and envy through games and play.


As adults we need to remember that when children grow with an abundance mindset, they are more likely to form more meaningful relationships with people in their lives. They know that there’s no comparison between what we can achieve alone and what we can achieve working with others. And, isn’t that success?


‘The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade.’

Adam Grant

(one of the world’s 10 most influential

management thinkers and

Fortune’s 40 under 40)

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