“Can You Please Help Me?”

Teaching kids to ask for help

Last week I wrote about teaching problem solving skills and my mind is still focused on those skills. I met a girlfriend at the park yesterday morning and watched an interaction between Keener and another boy. The little boy took Keener’s hat and was holding it above his head, out of Keener’s reach. I could tell from the look on Keener’s face that he was half enjoying it and half getting annoyed. I even asked my friend if I should get involved as I find OPKs (Other People’s Kids) tricky territory, particularly when you don’t know them.

I decided to let Keener handle it himself and tame my inner lion that was starting to grow inside me. The thing is, I want Keener to solve his own problems but when I am watching another child tease him (he proceeded to throw his hat away from him), it is really hard for me to know when the line has been crossed and it’s time to facilitate.

I made my physical presence more known as I could tell there was still something going on between the two boys. Then, I suggested to Keener to play on a different part of the playground. In the car on the way home, I asked him about what went on. “He took my hat and was holding it too high for me.” How did that make you feel? (silence). Was that silly and fun or did you feel frustrated? “It was funny.” Did you remember to use your words and ask for it back? “Yes, I said, ‘Can I have my hat back?’ and he told me I had to say ‘zap’ to get it back. Then he throwed it.”

Clearly, this situation unnerved me far more than Keener so I am particularly glad that I didn’t involve myself in the moment. He used the strategy of “using your words” to ask for it back, even if someone takes it from you first. I praised him for using his words to let the boy know he wanted his hat back. I also used this as a teaching opportunity.

Keener, what if you asked him for your hat back and he didn’t give it to you? What could you have done then? “I could have asked for help.” Who would you ask? Your mama or his mama? “I would ask you.” What if mama wasn’t there? Let’s say that happened at school? “I could ask my teachers for help.” That’s right bud. It sounds like you used your words to ask for your hat back and that solved your problem! But if it didn’t you could ask a grown up for help! I’m proud of you for solving the problem by yourself.

And to think I almost didn’t let him. Sigh. But driving home, I realized that asking for help is part of problem solving, and an important part at that. If you don’t know how to do something at work, at school, or even in a rental car you aren’t familiar with, asking for help makes sense. And I’ve never had a boss who was disappointed when I did. In fact, recognizing when you need help is a skill in and of itself.

With everything, moderation is key. For some kids, they ask for help too often and need to be taught strategies to build resilience and self help skills (I’m reading a book now that will help with ideas on this!). But for other kids, learning how to ask for help is incredibly advantageous on many levels.

One in particular is in managing frustration tantrums. Childwise breaks tantrums into two categories, temper tantrums (triggered by disappointment) and frustration tantrums (triggered by frustration, not rebellion). “A frustration tantrum happens when a child cannot make his body accomplish the task his mind can clearly understand.” For Keener, I have seen this with a falling tower of stacked blocks, trying to open a lid to a pouch, or trying to figure out how to carry something that is physically too big for him to hold. Childwise cautions that we are quick to rush in and help our kids but actually should not. We should encourage them asking for help. Otherise, “You may be encouraging a short temper and a quickness to give up.”

Instead, I let Keener know I am available and will say the following:

  • Are you trying to ask for help? Why don’t you say. ‘Mom, please help me.’
  • I’m available if you need help.
  • Let me know if I can help you with that
  • Do you want to watch me do it first and then you try again?

The important part is encouraging your child to ask for your help first, which “…puts the burden of cooperative problem solving on the child.” Even with Grace, I will prompt her to say, “Help please” before I launch in to help her.

Ideas to try:

  • Model it yourself. At the grocery store, the library, or a museum, make sure your child notices the times that you need help and who you can go to to get the needed information
  • Point out to children the people that are helpful in the various settings they are in — teachers, doctors, coaches, etc.
  • Remind kids that policeman and firefighters are also people that help others and people they could go to if needed (i.e. if they are lost)
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