When Kids Won’t Reach Out for Help (and How to Flip That)

What is self-advocacy, and why don’t kids like to do it?

First, a story…

I had planned ahead and had an hour to spare, plus time for ten minutes of meditation and a final run-through. The checklist was all set: Login and password, lighting, sound, my presentation slides, clothes, hair, makeup, simple background, even fresh flowers. I was ready to hop on the call.

But then something about the username/password combo did not work. I took a few long deep breaths and after trying to log in two more slightly different ways, I did what any teacher would say they want kids to do: Be a good self-advocate and reach out. There were call organizers and a tech coordinator. Perfect, I thought. Someone can help!

Instead, this was the first response I received: “Everybody else figured it out.“

That “everybody else” really stung. In my own thoughts I heard, “You are not as smart as they are. You have missed something obvious. It’s not my responsibility to help you. Figure it out.” A followup soon arrived which was also unhelpful. “Everything you need is in the attached document. You should have received and reviewed it last week.”

Everybody. Everything. You should have. Figure it out.

Unfortunately, this is something that well-intentioned adults do to kids all the time. We tell them to be self-advocates, to ask for what they need. A student is expected to seek help and they are penalized if they do not–and also, curiously, sometimes when they do ask.

Students ask for help but the teacher wants to know, “How have you tried to help yourself? Have you looked this up? Did you ask a peer? Did you check Classroom/Canvas/Blackboard? Did you reread the directions?” And then, comes the helpful reminder: “The information is in at least one of those places.”

The result is often shame and embarrassment–but not information.

When I reached out to get tech help, I got a little window into what it must be like every day for many kids. Except kids may need to ask numerous questions to get to the end of multistep work. I only needed login information.

Kids with executive function challenges often just need the answer, ASAP, before they forget what they were doing that required the information in the first place. They may need praise for what they have done right and some help getting back on track with the work. What they don’t need is to be shamed in the form of reminders that they have not measured up to everybody and everything and that they should have figured it out themselves. If that had worked they would not have reached out!

You can help.

1) Set up good listening. It can sound like this:

-I’d like to help. Can you tell me what you have tried so far?

2) Own it, even if you think you did a great job:

-Can we review the directions together? Maybe I did not make them clear enough.

3) Review, support, and praise the process:

-When you did X, that was a solid first step. What do you think the next step could be? Good! Here’s a sticky note. Can you write that down to help you remember?

Share this with a friend!
Got challenges? That’s what I’m here for!

Sherri Fisher
Learn & Flourish LLC
Executive Function Coaching–College & Career Planning–Special Education Advocacy

About the author

Sherri Fisher, MEd, MAPP, executive coach and learning specialist, uncovers client motivation and focus for perseverance. She has decades of successful experience working with students, parents, and professionals who face learning, attention, and executive function challenges at school, home, and work.

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