Asking for help seems simple but this is a skills that many children (and adults) struggle with. It is a skill that is a lot more complicated than people realise but it is a skill that is absolutely necessary. Being able to ask for help improves learning, resilience and safety.
In order to ask for help the child needs to understand their own feelings, recognise a need for help, determine who could help, predict what their response may be and then actually ask. They may also have beliefs that lead them to avoid asking for help, to ask too frequently, or to ask at inappropriate times. If they see themselves as hopeless or stuck they may avoid tasks or become angry and frustrated. If they are perfectionists they may believe that they have to do everything themselves or they will be seen as "stupid". While others ask for help in ways that annoy others. For instance, they may monopolize classroom discussions, interrupt the teacher, or derail on-going activities. They are unable to see the impact they are having on others.
As adults we need to model making mistakes and asking for help. I will often suggest to teachers that they deliberately make a mistake with either a spelling word or math question, then say something like "oops I think I have made a mistake. It's okay to make mistakes, everyone does". It helps to have a saying in your home or classroom "mistakes are good
, mistakes are how we learn". When asking for help, don't just bark for your kids to help with chores etc. Make a point of saying "I need your help", " can't do this alone" or "Thank you so much for your help"
To add to the complication, all of this is impacted by the environment that they are in. How they would ask for help would be different depending on if they are at home or classroom.
At home we know our children well. If you have a child who is easily frustrated, it is easy to fall into the habit of doing everything for them just to keep the peace. If we have a child who gets overwhelmed we probably make sure that they are only given small tasks. Or if you have a perfectionist you probably know not to offer help as that seems to only make things worse. But while we know our children better than anyone, we may be hindering their need to learn to ask for help. Sometimes we need to let them experience their need so they can recognise when they should ask for help. I'm not saying that we should step right back until they are completely overcome. But we need to let them experience mistakes and possibly some frustration before we intervene. Try as much as you can to have them problem solve. Say things such as " what do you think you could do", "what are you finding hard". But reassure them with "I'm here if you need me".
If your child becomes frustrated and maybe yells or asks in an inappropriate way, remember they need to be calm before you can talk them through this. A child is not able to think logically and learn if they are in a state where they are highly aroused. Offer hugs, space or whatever they need to calm but then talk about what they could have done differently. Talk about what would have happened if they had asked for help before they became too frustrated. How could they tell they were becoming frustrated? What were the warning signs that things were going too far.
In the CLASSROOM
There are different rules in the classroom than there are at home. You can't expect a teacher who is looking after 20 kids at once to answer every call for help at once. This means that we need to teach our kids three basic steps:
1. THINK (I need help!)
2. HAND UP
3. ASK (use an asking phrase such as “Can you help me please?”)
Again this sounds simple but it still requires the child to recognise when they have reached the point where the work has become too difficult but their frustration level is still manageable.
It can be helpful to have a Social Script to practice in these situations.
This is a great example of how to write a social script from Sue Larkey on her website https://suelarkey.com.au/promoting-social-understanding-social-scripts/
These scripts help the child to understand why it is important to ask, why you may have to wait and what are the appropriate ways to ask. It also give the child the opportunity practice this skill ahead of time.
Asking for help is an unexpectedly complicated skill. It requires that children recognise when they need help, negotiate their own feelings, predict what others reaction could be, consider the appropriateness of asking for help in that situation, and clearly communicate what they need. Thinking through these issues, and coming up with relevant plans to address them, can empower children to get the help they need.