Don’t skip “How can I help?”

Counselors and parents, if a student presents you with a challenge or a situation they’re facing where they don’t know what to do, it’s tempting to jump in and offer solutions.

“I want to take AP Chem and orchestra, but they’re offered in the same period.”

“My parents want me to apply to their alma mater, but I don’t want to go there.”

“I didn’t make the volleyball team and there are no other activities that interest me.”

You (think) you know the answer. You’re ready to dish out the advice it seems they desperately need. But before you solve their problem, take a minute to understand what they think the problem is. Ask questions. Get more detail. Gently get to the heart of what they’re thinking, feeling, and facing.

And once you’ve got a clear sense of that, then ask, “How can I help?”

Now, here’s the key. You don’t necessarily need to agree to whatever they request. If your student says, “I want you to call the counselor and demand that they rearrange the school schedule so I can take both classes this semester,” that’s likely not a request you’ll want to honor.

But there’s a subtle art behind this question: it makes the asker take ownership. They need to think through the issue, assess where they need help, and then ask (or not ask) for it.

You’re not jumping in uninvited. You’re not preemptively solving a problem you weren’t asked to solve. You’re not removing the opportunity for them to learn, to spot their own solutions, or to assess what kind of help they need or don’t need.

You’re just asking, “How can I help?”

The question is important. Don’t skip it.