Being able to ask for help is an essential skill for everyday life, but one that often has a stigma attached to it. It’s natural for young kids to want to “do it themselves,” especially when they see adults accomplishing the same tasks without help. Asking for help can sometimes be seen as a sign of weakness or incompetence, especially as we get older. But as we can see in the Magination Press book Giraffe Asks for Help by Nyasha Chikowore, main character Gary became happier and stronger after recognizing that he didn’t have to struggle alone. Help-seeking in children promotes positive psychological functioning, competence, and inspires healthy collaboration with the children and adults around them. When children learn to ask for help, not only do they utilize their problem-solving skills, but they also become more adept at communicating and expressing their needs.

The Importance of Help-Seeking

It may seem obvious to us, but asking for help can be a crucial tool to help kids deal with tough problems such as bullying, trouble with school work, conflict with peers, and more. In addition, help-seeking is a skill that can combat many of the risk factors that have been known to cause stress and sadness in kids. Discussing what asking for help looks like in different settings (e.g. school, home, camp) can help ensure that children can identify adults and peers who are safe and can provide them with the appropriate forms of assistance.

Of course, there’s a line between encouraging help-seeking and allowing a child to become dependent on help. Kids should still be encouraged to try things on their own when it is safe and appropriate for them to do so, but being comfortable asking for help when it would be beneficial is a key developmental skill. Being mindful about that line can make a huge difference in your child’s understanding of help-seeking.

What You Can Do

There are many things we can do to encourage help-seeking behaviors in kids. Letting them know that you are there to help them when needed is a good way to make sure they use the skill. Many kids have already been asking you for help since they were toddlers, and it can help to point out what that looked like as they have grown. You may have helped teach them how to walk, helped them with coloring or drawing, or helped them learn how to ride a bicycle. You can also give them examples of when you have had to ask for help in your own life to emphasize that people of all ages sometimes need help.

The following questions can aid parents and teachers in helping children navigate how to ask for help appropriately:

  • What are some things you can do without asking for help?
  • What are some things you still need help with?
  • How can you ask for help?

Have some suggestions ready in case your child needs help coming up with ideas!

Identify Potential Helpers

This can start simply by asking kids to identify potential helpers at home, at school, and in the neighborhood. This also gives parents a chance to establish clear boundaries for appropriate individuals to approach for help.

A useful activity to promote help-seeking is to introduce children to the individuals you have identified. Parents can take their children to visit neighbors, community members, and family they trust to go over topics that they can help them with. A simple exercise could be to walk over to a trusted neighbor’s home and ask for a cup of sugar to bake cookies, or to borrow a rake to gather leaves in the yard. This presents a great opportunity for your child to practice asking for help in a comfortable, low-stakes situation. It also gives you a chance to talk about healthy boundaries afterwards. Although we can ask the neighbor for a cup of sugar, we probably shouldn’t also be asking them for the flour, milk, and eggs! We can ask the neighbor to use their rake, but once we are done we have to give it back to them in the same condition we received it.

Knowing who not to ask for help can be equally important, and those boundaries should be clearly established as well. Emphasize that they should only approach and request help from known, trusted adults (or kids!). Many kids may already know this, but it can be helpful to reiterate, especially as we’re asking them to brainstorm a list of people that they can approach.

Model Help-Seeking

Help-seeking can be modeled in your home, too! If your child has a sibling, perhaps they can ask for help with picking up toys. You can ask your child to help you with a house chore, or even something fun, like baking a cake. It’s important to stress that, while of course you can do more things on your own as you get older, no one is ever too old to ask for help.

Encourage Empathy

Learning to ask for help can also very naturally lead into a conversation about helping others, especially if you’re modeling by asking for help, as suggested above. This is a fantastic next step! Not only will your child be learning to ask for help, but they will also be learning how to empathize when you reciprocate. If we go back to the example of asking the neighbor for a cup of sugar, it’s useful to discuss that the neighbor can ask us for a cup of sugar in return. We can imagine how it feels to not have enough sugar when baking cookies, and we want to help them. Empathy is crucial to healthy development, as it helps increase emotional intelligence and is essential to healthy relationship-building with others.

You can encourage your children to empathize and help others in many ways. Sometimes just listening and being a good student can be helpful – it helps teachers give students the information they need in a quiet environment. Encourage your child to think about the class from the teacher’s point of view. Empathy can also look like your child sharing a toy or video game with a friend. Letting others have fun with them can show caring and can also give your child an opportunity to help their friend with the activity.

Asking for help is a basic, important skill, but is one that we often don’t utilize enough! Encouraging kids at a young age to be independent but also comfortable asking for help sets them up for success down the road.

This article is a modified excerpt from the Magination Press book Giraffe Asks for Help by Nyasha Chikowore. 

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Giraffe Asks For Help

    By Nyasha M. Chikowore

    Gary Giraffe is so excited to finally turn six — now he should be able to reach the acacia leaves all on his own!

    When things don’t go exactly as he’d planned, Gary is distraught. He tries and tries to get to the leaves himself, but he’s just not tall enough. The other giraffes can do it — why can’t he?

    Gary doesn’t want to have to ask for help, but his friends convince him that everyone needs help sometimes. And that’s OK!

    Includes a Note to Parents & Caregivers with more information on help-seeking and independence in children.