The Helpful Child
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IT is a pleasant tribute to human nature that the Helpful Child is not rare. We meet him everywhere, with his beaming smile, his eager hands outstretched, his feet willing to run our errands. The sad part is that most of us regard him as more of a nuisance than a blessing. "Oh, dear, no ! I can't wait for you to go, dear," we say, pleasantly enough, not dreaming that we are crushing a lovely impulse. "Mother will carry it; you're too little," says the strong, efficient parent, and let her not delude herself into supposing she says this from any desire to save her child's strength. No; she is sparing herself the unpleasantness of a load brought slowly, or clumsily dropped. And the Helpful Child gains the idea that he is not needed in the big world full of capable, self-sufficient adults.
We see the result in the selfish, indolent older boy who has adapted himself logically to this world so well conducted without him. He now demands the service that was once thrust upon him, for are not adults made to minister to his needs, and is not goodness the amicable acceptance of these attentions? He will not reflect on a grown person's inability by offering assistance — not he. Rather will he chuckle at any sign of adult incompetency.
But, happily, here is a mother of a Helpful Child, a part of whose parental creed it is never to refuse an offer of help. A broken dish, a half-brushed floor, a delayed errand are accepted by her as a necessary apprenticeship in unselfishness. She knows that efficient service must come from practise, but it is not efficiency that she covets for her child - rather something far finer - the spirit of service. She sees in his first eager, impulsive offers of help the first faint evidence of that spirit.
Now, she knows full well that these early offers of assistance are not made with her own welfare in view. It is probable the Helpful Child is not thinking of her much of any, but of his own power to help. He wants to show that he is strong and capable. He looks forward to the nod of approval that will come when he proudly shows the full wood box or delivers the loaf of bread and the correct change. This mother does not look for any higher motive at first. She knows that her task is to make service pleasurable and helpfulness a habit. And she very ingeniously and persistently turns his attention from the deed and the doer to the one who is served. She praises the sturdy little legs that saved grandfather's tired legs. She tells of the nap she took while the Helpful Child did her errand. She points out that for an hour the baby did not cry once, because the Helpful Child kept her playthings within reach.
She knows this far-seeing mother — that only a shade more contemptible than the selfish and lazy man, the product of refusals of help, is the patronizing, ostentatious helper of his kind, who reduces service to a profession. She is willing to offer herself as a means of exercising a virtue only if the Helpful Child is to grow more and more aware of the benefit to her, and gradually to forget himself and his deed. She has this ideal for him, that he may serve mankind for the sake of mankind, and that the only reward he will ultimately crave will be the happiness of those he serves.