Guiding Kids to Ask for Help

Your son is building a robot out of legos when you hear a yell of frustration and a crash. You ask him what happened and he says, “It kept breaking. I can’t do it.” And you offer to help him, thinking or saying, “Why didn’t you ask for help?”

Your students are working on their classwork. As you look around you notice that Emma is fidgeting with her pencil, trying to look busy, but isn’t writing a thing. You go over to her desk, crouch down next to her, and ask if she needs any help. “Yes. I don’t know what to do.” she mumbles. And you help her, thinking or saying, “Why didn’t you ask for help?’

The child you work with is sharing one of the stories above and you ask them… (well, no big surprise here, you can probably guess where we’re headed) you ask them, “Why didn’t you ask for help?”

And their answers may vary…

  • I was too nervous.
  • I didn’t know what to say.
  • The (teacher, my mom or dad, you) was/were busy.
  • I wanted to do it on my own.
  • I didn’t want people to look at me or think I wasn’t smart.
  • I don’t know.

Asking for help is a skill. Skills can be taught and practiced.

Where in your home, classroom, or office are you creating opportunities for kids to practice asking for help?

In my office, we have the Monkey Game.

(I wish I could take credit for creating this game, but one of my clients many years ago came up with it.)

So, what’s the Monkey Game?

Well, there are three tiny plastic monkeys hidden inside my dollhouse. The child in my office can find them and then hide them for the next client to come and play the game.

And how do I use this game to practice asking for help?

When kids can’t find a monkey I say, “If you’d like some help, I can give you a hint (if I know where the monkeys are) or I can help you look.” And then I wait.

Instead of noticing they need help and then either asking them if they need help to which they’ll answer with a simple “yes” or “no” or jumping in to help them, I offer them a prompt to ask for help.

I have a teacher friend who offers bonus study sheets to her students. The catch is they have to ask her for them. She doesn’t just hand them out to everyone.

She stands in front of the class (more than one time), holding up the paper, and says, “I have a bonus study sheet here, if you want one come ask me for it.”

And when a parent calls and says their child didn’t get the sheet, she responds with, “They just need to ask me and I’ll give it to them.”

While, this is slightly different than asking for help, it still provides her students the opportunity to practice the skill of asking, asking for what they need.

When we create these experiences for kids, it provides a framework for them to…

  • Grow their self-assessment skills. Do I need help or not?
  • Create better problem-solving and decision-making skills. By trial and error, they learn when they need help and when they don’t.
  • Gain confidence and self-efficacy.
  • Increase their comfort with the natural feeling of vulnerability that can come with asking for help.

What are your experiences with guiding children to ask for help? I’d love to hear them!