Gesturing for help comes naturally to babies. They need help with everything and as you know they are not shy about screaming for it! But as children grow up, that natural healthy tendency can become warped. Some children may learn to stop asking for help. Others learn to get help even when it’s not needed. How can you help them find a balance?
Why ask for help?
Let’s start with why it is important for your children to ask for help. Obviously, you want them to ask when the task is potentially dangerous. But asking for help also builds skills.
- We want children to learn to voice their needs at home. These kids are more likely to stand up for themselves in other situations. They are also less likely to be taken advantage of.
- Asking for help is a form of bravery. You need to talk to someone and admit you can’t do everything yourself. That’s why asking for help is hard for perfectionists!
- Knowing you will respond positively to their requests for help is reassuring for kids. It makes trying new things less intimidating and helps them persevere once started. They understand they can always seek support and comfort for their frustration. This, in turn, helps them learn how to self-regulate their emotions and stay calmer.
Why do children stop asking for help?
It doesn’t work.
Babies are little scientists. They are constantly testing out theories and making ‘rule’ about how the world works. Imagine a baby in distress who gets little or no help. Anger and frustration can be felt as early as 2 ½ – 7 ½ months of age! Researchers have found this baby will have delays in verbal communication and social signals. This may be because the baby believes the world is not helpful. This shapes the babies attitudes and views of reality as he or she grows up. But don’t worry; it takes many repeated experiences for babies to form a rule.
It’s not the thing that’s done.
As children grow up, they start to pick up on more subtle social rules. From around 2 ½ -4 years of age a toddler will watch how people’s responses to his/her distress. They will then copy this behaviour when they see others in distress. It’s pretty cute when they soothe their younger siblings! Kids will also watch you to see if you ask for help. They will then copy this behaviour.
There’s no need to ask.
Children, and even adults, sometimes feel helpless. People who feel helpless don’t feel they have any control over a situation, or even over their lives. When someone feels helpless they try less. They also have less self-control and are more stressed and depressed. Unfortunately, helplessness can be learned. In one experiment people had to listen to a loud and unpleasant noise. Half the group could stop it, the other half couldn’t. Later, when everyone could stop the noise, only half the group did so. The people who had no control earlier didn’t try to change their situation. They had learned not to try. What does this mean for children? If we repeatedly jump in and fix their problems, they learn to be helpless. When they face a new problem they will wait until someone else fixes it for them.
How do we address this?
Your child is likely still in a stage where he or she asks for help. They may even ask too often for your liking! This week we will add to the methods you already use to both increase and decrease their requests for help.
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