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Five More Ways to Be Genuinely Helpful

Lots of folks seemed to like my first five tips, so here are five more!

  1. Avoid opening a can of worms. The act of helping can set off all sorts of power and control dynamics. Sometimes it’s more genuinely helpful to farm the task out to someone neutral. It’s one main reason parents use tutors like me; I’m a third party who can get their kid to do his homework without the power struggles.
  2. Now’s not the time to teach a lesson. It’s tempting (especially if you are a parent or a spouse) to seize upon your loved one’s problem as an opportunity to drive your point home and (finally!) get them to shape up in some way. I keep in mind the words of Dr. Haim Ginott: When a person is drowning is not the time to teach him to swim. In a crisis, what is needed is rescue and comfort, not lessons or advice. There’s time for that later.
  1. Keep them company. You’d be amazed at how much of successful tutoring simply boils down to sitting next to the kid while she works and being there to answer the occasional question or offer a sympathetic glance or word of support. I encourage parents to sit with their kids while they study and just read a book or do their own paperwork. Hospital visits are like this, too; it’s comforting to have another person in the room, even if the visitor is silently knitting.
  2. ASK how you can be of help. Instead of guessing what’s needed and then missing the mark, ask! Say: I’d like to be of help, please tell me what I can do. Sounds pretty basic, right? But we so often skip this step!
  3. Do the minimum. This goes back to my mom’s situation, where all she wanted was someone to pick up one end of the coffee table. Although it may seem even more helpful to then go ahead and rearrange ALL her furniture (or while we’re at it, to get her a new set of furniture…no, wait, let’s help her look for a different house!!!…), people tend to appreciate it most when you give them the help they actually wanted. Extra “help” often feels intrusive, not helpful at all.

I’m working on a third set of five more (I’ve got three so far)…I’d love to hear your suggestions!

[photo taken from atop the dune at LisSurMer this spring]

Five More Ways to Be Genuinely Helpful

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2011). Five More Ways to Be Genuinely Helpful. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2018, from


Last updated: 3 Aug 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Aug 2011
Published on All rights reserved.