A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home doing work on my computer when my 17-year-old son walked into my room and said he was stressed.  Immediately, I stopped what I was doing, looked up at him, and asked, “what’s stressing you out?’ In which he replied, “Everything.”  This statement made me lean in a bit more to what he was saying.  I began to listen.  As I heard, he began to give me a rundown of all the things that were stressing him out; school, life, me, his dad, teachers, etc. I couldn’t believe it; my easy-going, calm, relaxed, and collected 17 years old was feeling stressed, and I was a factor in him feeling stressed.   He continued, and we finally got to the root of a specific school assignment that was also a contributor to his stress.  It was his History project at school.  I was aware of the project because the teacher had sent out an email to parents about the project and encouraged us to ask our children about the project. 

I remember him asking me to help him find the primary sources needed for the project.  At that time, I was happy to help.  I quickly went to the college library of the institution where I work to help him find primary sources.  However, he didn’t seem enthusiastic about the support I was providing.  As we continued, he began to get more frustrated as I too, was becoming frustrated.  I finally said to him that he should ask his school librarian for help, as I was not being as helpful as he had expected.  However, with my suggestion to him to ask for help, he seemed hesitant. So I inquired as to why he was reluctant to ask for help.  And in his frustration and hesitation, he said, “Mom, you taught us (he and his sister) how to be independent, but you never taught us how to ask for help.”   This statement left me speechless and disappointed in my parenting skills.  After getting through the shock and the disappointment of his comment, I said, “well I am teaching you now to ask for help”.

What I learned during this brief interaction with my son was two things, 1) his belief about being independent was getting in the way of him reaching out for help, which was causing him stress and 2) although it’s important to teach kids to be independent, it’s just as important to teach them how to ask for help.  Asking for help is an additional skill needed in the independence tool kit.  So here are a few tips to teaching kids how to ask for help.

  1. As a parent, you must first help children understand the true meaning of independence.  Being independent means taking responsibility and doing the things you have learned to do on your own and no longer need assistance when doing it
  2. Help your child(ren) choose the things they feel they can do independently without much help from others
  3. Model for your child when and how to ask for help.  It means that you must create situations where you reach out to others for help when needed in the presence of your children
  4. Help children with finding the words/vocabulary needed to ask for help
  5. Provide situations where they would have the opportunity to utilize the skill

For many of us, it’s not comfortable to ask for help; it can be quite complicated, primarily if you don’t have the know-how.  It’s not only about asking for help; it requires knowing when help is needed, how to manage feelings, an idea of who they will ask for help and a possible reaction from that helper, making judgments as to the appropriate time of asking in any particular situation and the ability to communicate what they need.  If we as parents can help children with these issues and ways of how to address them, we can empower our children to ask for and get the help they need when necessary.