The "four letter" word used by all successful people

Very few people are successful entirely on their own.  Bill Gates worked with Paul Allen, Steve Jobs with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, and to shift away from high tech you can even point to Coach Wooden and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It is impossible to be successful in your career without help from someone. Just look at the booming business in executive coaching and you can see the demand for support in the workplace.

There is pressure for our kids to do everything on their own.  Admittedly they can get away with doing less if a parent is not looking over their shoulder.  More often though, they are under the mistaken impression that asking for help is in some way like cheating.  The following conversation may or may not have happened in my household recently and the all characters are probably fictional, maybe.

8th Grade Son: So if colleges look at my grades for all four years of high school it is going to start soon!
Father: Yes it is, that is why your mother and I are always hassling you about good study habits.
8th Grade Son: I have good habits...
Father: Sure, like getting your work done without procrastinating, and asking for help when you need it.
8th Grade Son: Help with what?
Father: Well, that essay you had to write the other day for example, you could have asked me to check it for you.
8th Grade Son: Yeah, but I did it myself, I didn't need your help.
Father: But maybe if you asked me to read it over after you were finished I might have had some suggestions to make it better.
8th Grade Son: But we are supposed to do it ourselves and you will not be there when I am older so I won't be able to ask you then. [Good point!]
Father: True, but we could review it together and you could learn whatever I have to teach you and then later you might be better able to do it on your own.  And, I am sure your teacher would want you to ask for help, as long as I don't write it for you.
8th Grade Son: Hmmmm.

I am sharing the above dialogue because 8th Grade Son has a valid point.  If he asks for help all the time then what is he going to do when there is nobody around and he truly needs to finish his work on his own.  Where is the balance between building independent skills and confidence in our kid's abilities and asking for help?

Our kids were not born this way.  As toddlers they do not hesitate to ask us to do anything at anytime. I would imagine that it is part of that whole independence thing that comes with puberty and adolescence where asking for help becomes harder. We may not always be able to provide the support they need (like with the increasingly difficult math problems coming home these days...) but we can create an environment where they feel comfortable asking.  Like the study habits mentioned in the dialogue above, the habit of asking for help when needed is an important one for our kids to develop for their careers.


  1. Good. When should the teenager ask for help? When should the parent tell him he should try to do by himself? "See if you can do it on your own before you ask for my help." The same is true for a manager with his subordinates. I don't think these are easy questions to answer at any age and for any position. There are too many variables involved to give a specific answer.
    Headhunter Dad's Dad

    1. I think one of the differences with kids as opposed to your workforce is that with an employee there is a certain level of expectation of competence. Whereas for kids, they are learning all the time. If we ask them to try it themselves before asking for help, how do they know if they did it right or well? Maybe they can ask for help and we can judge at that point whether we think it is something they should make an attempt on first.

  2. Larry, asking for help, is a long learning journey - my 8 years old simply asks for help when he needs my attention (ugh) which is ok to some extent. I do feel that he is learning when and why he needs 'the real help'. As he grows, I hope he will be able to judge, when and why he is asking for help. Many nursery teachers told me that a child who sought for help and helped, will be able to help others when they grow up - When my son becomes an adult, I do hope that he will be helping others. Me? ummm, I sometimes think I help him because I want to cut it short...- then I regret.....

    1. Rio you bring up another important point. It is good for the kids to get in the habit of asking for help as well as learning when to try it themselves, but you also recognized that we as parents are constantly trying to figure out which case to help on and which one to back off. It would be nice if the rest of life did not interfere with those decisions (exhaustion, stress...)


Post a Comment