By Shruti Sagar

Research conducted by a group of scientists at New York University concludes that using verbs instead of nouns when talking about a child’s actions can impact their resilience when they are faced with setbacks. This research was based off of a previous study, which concluded that asking children aged 4 to 5 to “be helpers” rather than “to help” led to children assisting with more tasks. The NYU findings, however, showed that this method does not hold after children experience hardships while trying to be helpful.

The experimental design consisted of children ages 4 to 5 being placed into two groups: kids that were asked “to help” versus kids who were asked to “be helpful”. Both groups were tasked to assist the experimenter in picking up toys, and the experiment was designed as such that children would experience setbacks while they tried to help in order to test their resilience when they were given more chances to help the experimenter. The box they were asked to pick up was purposely faulty and mimicked an outcome representative of a child’s everyday life. The results concluded that children who were asked “to help” were more resilient in helping after the setback than children that were asked to “be helpers” were.

NYU scientist Emily Fostor-Hanson, an author of this paper, stated that “talking to children about actions they can take -- in this case, that they can do helpful things -- can encourage more persistence following setbacks than talking to children about identities that they can take on” (New York University). In other words, the research concludes that it is beneficial to a child’s perseverance and tenacity to encourage them with verbs to talk about actions rather than nouns to talk about children as one aspect of an identity.


New York University. (2018, September 19). Instilling persistence in children. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from