Student Self-Advocacy: Why won’t my child ask for help in class?

“My child won’t raise her hand in class! If she just asked her teacher for help, she wouldn’t be so frustrated with her homework.”

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Asking for help is not easy for many bright, young students, especially in front of peers. The result can be long, disheartening homework sessions at night, or low test scores and a loss of self-esteem down the road.

“Why didn’t you ask for help?” is a perfectly reasonable question, but it doesn’t teach your child the student self-advocacy skills she needs to solve the problem.

The good news is, that there are some simple, yet powerful strategies to help your child self-advocate and turn into a more confident learner.

3 student self-advocacy strategies for kids

1. Role-play with younger children to practice approaching a teacher for help.

  • Start by playing the role of the student, with your child playing the role of the teacher, and then switch.
  • This works especially well with younger children.
  • Walking through what it’s like to ask for help shows your child that it’s nowhere near as stressful as they thought it would be. Soon they will start to realize that their teachers are generally happy to help.

2. Offer some conversation prompts kids can use to ask for what they need to succeed.

Many kids, of all ages, are afraid or embarrassed to ask for help at school. Others simply don’t know how to properly ask adults for what they need.

“Sometimes we need help from others to help us solve problems and take actions on our own. Asking for and accepting help are important skills in learning to self-advocate,” explained Psychotherapist Allison Sibley, Ph.D., LICSW, Director of The Sibley Group.

To help, Sibley suggests teaching kids the following sentence starters and prompting questions:

  • Starter Sentences:
    I’m having a hard time with…
    Oh by the way, I might need

    I just wanted you to know that I do better when…

  • Prompting Questions
    Do you remember when we learned…?
    I need help understanding…
    Could I have a few minutes… to talk about…?
    Is now a good time to ask about…?

To learn more ways you can help your child build confidence through self-advocacy, we invite you to watch our parent workshop with Dr. Allison Sibley— Speak Up for Yourself: Teaching Kids the Power of Self-Advocacy for Academic Success:

3. Show kids how to write an email to a teacher.

For hesitant students, email communication can avoid a lot of the stress and social pressures from face-to-face interaction in class.

One of our tutors here at Educational Connections, Emily, says she likes to share a template with her students so they know how to properly communicate through email with their teachers.

self advocate with email to teacher

“This communication and your own self-advocacy might be the most important transferable skill you can give a learner because in any scenario for learning then you can know how to reach out for help,” Emily explained.

Although we may assume high school students are already comfortable writing an email to their teacher, many are not. And most elementary and middle school students will need some guidance. So it’s important to model the email first and involve your child in the process.

Encourage your kid to keep their emails friendly in tone and to clearly state what they need and the actions they plan to take.

email example from student to teacher

One-on-one attention is ideal

Whether it is with a teacher, a parent, or a tutor, one-on-one attention provides the best possible learning situation. It allows more opportunities for positive reinforcement and personalized, specific instruction in a relaxed environment.

Take the next step and speak to one of our educational experts about ways we can help your child build confidence and advocacy skills to become a more independent learner.