Coming at you with a super-practical parenting post today. I live in a house with two children, ages five and nine. This means that they are plenty old enough to do a lot of things, but, also young enough to still need help sometimes. As parents, we have worked really hard to encourage independence in these developing humans, but that doesn’t stop them from occasionally asking for help when they don’t really need it. Because, let’s be honest, sometimes it’s just physically, emotionally, or mentally easier to ask for help than to do stuff on our own. I know if I am tempted to do this, my kids are certainly going to be prone to do it as well.
All that to say, part of our job as parents is helping kids when they need it. But, it is also our job to help them push against the edges of their physical, emotional, and mental comfort zones in order to gain the ability to find solutions on their own. Full disclaimer, I regularly fail at this, because it is really hard to stay focused on the big picture when “Moooooooommmmmm…I neeeeeed hellllp” is reverberating off the walls. So, rather than just sit in my Mom shame (super fun times) I came up with an acronym to help me focus and slow down. It is, fittingly, H.E.L.P.
What to Do When Kids Ask for Help
H – Hesitate. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. We do not hesitate when a child is actually in danger. Most of us know the difference between our kid’s fear voice vs. frustrated voice. If they’re hanging off the roof, please help them. But, if it’s less serious, try hesitating. This practice of hesitating when a child calls for “help!” is exactly what it sounds like. Just take a beat. Feel free to finish the chicken you were chopping, the towel you were folding, or the bill you were paying. “Just a second kiddo” is a perfectly acceptable response when a child asks for help. Many times if I hesitate for just a bit, I get “never mind, I figured it out” before I even get to them. Self-efficacy for them, non-interruption for me. Win-win.
E – Evaluate. This is the self-reflective part of the process. If we get past hesitation and are actually going to engage with our child, we need to reflect on where we are. On my way to them, it usually helps me to take a couple breaths and remember that these kiddos are a gift, rather than an inconvenience. And, that whatever emotional state I find them in does not have to dictate mine. Kids who are asking for help sometimes feel (and act) a little irrational and panic-stricken. Meeting them with calm helps support their self-regulation and models that they too can be calm while problem-solving.
L – Listen. This may be the most important step in the whole acronym. When we go to help our children with something, it’s not just about the task itself, but the mental and emotional process around it. When we take the time to ask (and validate!) how they are feeling, listen to what they have already tried, and hear what they want to accomplish, we affirm they are worth listening to. So many times, especially if I feel busy or irritated, I just want to blow past what they are thinking and feeling and fix the situation so they will stop being sad/frustrated and I can get back to whatever I was doing. Obviously, this fixes things in the short term, but does very little for their long-term development and independence. Listening and helping are both essential.
P – Problem-solve. This step is where the real-life rubber hits the road. This is where we get the chance to teach them how to be critical thinkers, encourage them to look at problems from different angles, offer potential solutions or parts of the solution, and empower them to choose a path forward. In short, this is where we help them stretch not only their knowledge, but their ability to be creative and persevere even when the answers aren’t obvious. The post-script on this one is that sometimes when your kid can’t figure it out, you can’t either. Part of the full course of problem-solving is admitting when you don’t know, and then teaching your kiddo how to seek outside information and support as needed. You know, like humans have to do sometimes!
Okay, there you are. During this past year, parents may have had to respond to “I need help!” more than any other parents in recent history. We have been with our kids more, faced things that none of us had any clue how to do (hello, virtual learning) and do it all while trying to attend to our own responsibilities and well-being. If nothing else, I hope filing this little acronym away in your head will be a way to help us all slow down, take care of ourselves, and put us in a better space to take care of our kids. If we do this well, we may just turn out some awesome little problem solvers when all this is over.