Teaching Help-Seeking Skills

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Seeking help can be difficult for so many of us. There is a fine line when teaching respon­sibility, self-sufficiency, and help-seeking skills. While asking for help for some things may come easily for some people, there are some things that can leave a person feel­ing inadequate. They may not want to reveal that they can’t do something correctly.

Many people are taught to be independent and self-reliant, and seeking help can be viewed as a less desirable skill. Consequently, teaching and learning help-seeking skills may be overlooked.

The underdevelopment of help-seeking skills may cause students to avoid seeking help and trying to work things out for themselves, result­ing in feelings of anxiety, stress, or other un­desirable consequences for students, such as:

  • Inability to master academic content, result­ing in a lagging in their academic performance.
  • Social isolation or retreat, due to protecting themselves from the feeling of inadequacy, and keeping secrets about gaps in knowledge or ability.
  • Increased anxiety, fretfulness, or passive-aggressive behaviors.

All of the above can affect a student’s academic performance, ability to cooperate, or overall happiness in school. Let’s take a look at specific grade spans and how we can demonstrate teach­ing help-seeking skills, based on children’s be­haviors and abilities, at each particular age.

Kindergarten Through Grade 2

It is desirable if students learn and develop help-seeking skills that enable them to:

  1. Accept help, while learning to be independent
  2. Recognize when they are in situations where seeking help is advisable
  3. Seek help and advocacy from adults

At this developmental stage, children are more interested in producing a high quantity of work, as opposed to quality. They may not know they are not following the assignment that was given, as they strive to be more inde­pendent. This age group can be quite emotional if they believe they did something wrong. Thus, providing reassurance and showing empathy will build a student’s confidence.

This age group relies on constant reassurance from adults. Children may demand help rather than ask for it. Incorporating stories within les­sons that depict kind ways to ask for help is a beneficial way to get a message to them with­out lecturing. Adults can model help-seeking skills in a relatable way by asking children to put their lunch boxes away instead of tell­ing them to do so. Asking children to quiet down so that today’s lesson can begin is a kind and respectful way to seek their attention.

Grades 3 Through 5

Students can learn and develop help-seeking skills that enable them to:

  1. Be unafraid to ask for help with academics
  2. Ask for help when feeling fearful or unsafe
  3. Ask for help even if feeling embarrassed or ashamed
  4. Seek help when unable to resolve conflict with peers

This age group will go through massive changes, emotionally and physically. Social networks grow and become more profound as friendships play a more significant role in their lives. They may find themselves more invested in good grades because they feel more pressure to be like their peers. The opposite can also ring true if a close friend doesn’t care about their grades. Providing ways for students to privately notify their teachers when they are having academic issues and shar­ing what kind of help is available will ensure that all students can obtain the assistance they need.

As social circles tighten, issues related to shame, fear, and body image can seem all-encompassing. Students need resources, time, and space to help them build and practice their help-seek­ing skills. Class plays, role-playing exercises, and classroom read-alouds are examples of explicit ways to provide guidance and practice for students to deepen their help-seeking skills.

Grades 6 Through 8

Students can learn and develop help-seeking skills that enable them to:

  1. Learning and developing help-seeking skills with matters relevant to their overall well-being
  2. Remove barriers to personal goals
  3. Plan for the future

From age 12 through 14 students may portray themselves as having everything figured out and become annoyed with adult lectures in and out of the classroom. Therefore, parents and teachers must get creative when sharing help-seeking skills. Finding relatable ways to share stories and giving assignments based on real-life situations are a few examples of ways to make an impression with new teenagers.

This age group enjoys challenging authority and may become more judgmental of instructors and parents. Being an example, instead of lecturing, will make a more significant impact. Adults ask­ing children for help with problem-solving and physical tasks such as putting furniture together are ways to show that it’s okay to ask for help.

Children at this age want to be independent as they talk more like adults, but don’t yet understand why their viewpoints are not taken as the rule. Give them the chance to make some rules, in and out of the classroom. Even if the adult knows their solution will not work, let them try it their way. This will build trust, as they realize you believe in them.

While most of us want to appear like we have it all together, we all can benefit from stating our needs, knowing our limits, and discovering ways to ask for help. As adults who work with children, in and out of the classroom, we have a responsi­bility to demonstrate effective ways to seek help.


  • Cooc, N., & Kim, J. S. (2016). Peer influence on children’s reading skills: A social network analysis of elementary school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology 109(5), 727-40.
  • Fraser, M. W., Nash, J. K., Galinsky, M. J., & Darwin, K. M. (2000). Making Choices: Social Problem-Solving Skills for Children. Washington, DC: NASW Press.
  • Wood, C. Yardsticks: Child and Adolescent Development Ages 4-14. (2017). Turners Falls, MA: Center for Responsive Schools.