Helping Students Understand Their Support System 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Who can they count on?

Exploring who you can count on and who supports you is invaluable. Students benefit from knowing who is in their support system, when to access them, and how to access them. It is so powerful for a child to know that when they are upset or in trouble, there is a support system they know how to access on their own.

Who Can I Count On?

Hands-on activities and visuals help students make something that's abstract more concrete. Using visuals, students can explore their support system in more detail.

When discussing, go beyond a list of reliable people. Have students sort people by where they see them (e.g., community, home, school), their relationship with them, and the kind of help they can provide.

Cup of Comfort

This student booklet is a series of 8 hot cocoa cups. Each hot cocoa cup prompts the student to think of someone they can count on for help in different locations. For example, who can they rely on at home, school, or community? You can expand this for different ages by discussing specific scenarios or why that person is part of their support system.

Download the free Cocoa Comfort Activity from my store.

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Safety Net Activity

Explain that support systems are like safety nets. When trying something new, we might fail. It is great to have people to "break our fall" or "catch us." You can talk about tightrope walkers or construction crews on tall buildings. Safety nets are something they have so they stay safe. There are people in our lives that we can rely on when we try new things.

Support Circles

Have students think about who they can rely on more deeply by considering the closeness of their relationship or the kinds of problems they would go to them for. Concentric circles are a simple and quick way to have students explore their support system.

For example, you can have students rate how big the problem is by coloring in the circle. Minor problems may be the center circle, and it would continue to expand as the problem gets bigger. They could then add people they would go to for small, medium, and big problems.

Try having students add themselves to the center and then add people to the circle. The closer their relationship with that person, the closer that person would be to them on the diagram.

When Do I Need Support?

It's great for students to understand who is in their support system. It is even better that they know when to access those people.

Support systems are essential; you should know who you can count on. But it isn't as valuable as it should be if you don't know when or how to access them.

Kid Fix Problems vs Adult Fix Problems

Most students I saw for counseling were usually struggling with some problem they didn't know how to solve on their own. Over time, this would quickly blow up into more significant issues. They either over-rely on adults or try to fix all the problems on their own.

One of the first things we did was to list the problems they were having. Then, we rated them on a simple scale.

  1. No Problem - Something to let go of.
  2. Easy Fix - problems with super easy solutions.
  3. Kid Fix - problems that adults and others expect kids to fix themselves.
  4. Kid Fix with Adult Help - problems kids are in charge of, but adults can help solve them more smoothly or quickly.
  5. Adult Help - problems kids should not fix independently but rather ask an adult to fix.
  6. Emergency - problems that need to be solved immediately by an adult.
    You can link this to their support system by having a student identify a scenario and who to rely on in each situation.

It is also important to talk about the consequences of over-accessing your support system and the benefits of being independent when possible. Stories like The Boy Who Cried Wolf are good parables for younger students. Your support systems may see you as helpless or tire of doing things for you if you rely on them for problems you could solve yourself.


When deciding when to access help, students can consider someone in their support system with specific expertise. Who do they know that would be good at solving this problem or be able to help them best? Their best friend might be good when arguing with someone but not the best when they want to find resources for a research paper.

How Do I Ask for Help?

Hopefully, at this point, your students know who is in their support system and when they should access them. Often, students still need to learn how to access their support system. Asking for help is hard and can feel awkward. Take out a barrier by giving them simple language.

Asking for Help: What to Say

During counseling or in class lessons, try to practice asking for help. Students respond well to sentence stems and role plays.

Practice with students in 2 parts: stating the problem simply and then asking for specific help. Simple and specific are the criteria.

"Do you have time after dinner to help me with my homework? I'm having a hard time with a few math problems in this new unit?"

"This kid kept staring at me during lunch and bumped into me on the way out. It freaked me out. Can you walk with me to class?"

Accessing Help from Adults

Talking with students about accessing help from adults at school or in the community is also helpful. As a school psychologist, I had specific passes for certain students. We differentiated when it was an emergency and when it was something that could wait until the next free opportunity. In the community, they should know how to access a police officer or a responsible adult.

Can Someone Count on Me?

I like to round out activities on support systems by asking students to reflect. Are they part of someone else's support system? They are sometimes the ones that need help; they can also be someone who helps.

Helping Hands

For this activity, students can trace their own hands, or you can print off outlines of a hand. Students write down ways they can specifically help others. Are there things they are experts in? Problems they have solved on their own that they could help someone else solve? This also makes for a great bulletin board when students are done.

Understanding your support system is an essential skill that lets students be independent decision-makers for themselves regardless of their age. 

Helpful Resources

Complimitten Activity for Winter SEL Activity

Compliments SEL Winter Activity

Winter social emotional learning activity to help elementary students practice giving compliments. This resource includes a student activity, guiding slides, and display materials.

Where Oliver Fits Read Aloud Activities

Where Oliver Fits is a great way to talk about accepting others, how exclusion makes people feel, and practicing accepting yourself for who you are. The resources provide comprehension questions, activities, a story summary sheet, and bulletin board materials.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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