Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship

This is post #3 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

Parents are often concerned that tutoring their own children could cause tension or stress in their relationship. It is also a concern for those considering home-schooling. Here are some tips for building a good parent-tutor and child relationship:

  • Talk about your own learning and life experiences: Share some interesting facts about your own life, and your own learning experiences–including difficulties you have had. Ask the children about their learning experiences, likes and dislikes, and interesting stories and incidents. Rather than “wasting learning time,” you will build trust and rapport.
  • Watch your child’s body language. While students may not want to “tell” you how they are feeling, or what learning problem they are facing, careful attention to facial expression, posture, fidgeting, and so on can give important clues.
  • Really listen to yours child’s responses, and you will discover his or her true learning needs, and the level at which to start. Adjust the work and learning styles/methods as you learn more about your child’s abilities and nature.
  • Watch for knowledge and skill gaps: Pay attention to how your child tries to work out an answer, and watch for “gaps” in knowledge and skills. Often an apparently “big” problem is simply solved by finding a small gap that the student missed at some early stage of learning. Fill in that small piece and the problem may almost magically disappear!
  • Be aware of your child’s ability to concentrate. If your child is losing interest or reacting negatively, change what you are doing. Take a brain break, stretch, have a snack, chat about the child’s interests, or switch from one way of learning the material (say, working on a worksheet or writing) to another (like using a table game or a physical exercise or artwork). As you try different things out, see which kinds of learning styles work best. You may need to start with short sessions of 10 to 15 minutes and work up to 1/2 hour to an hour, depending on your child’s age and concentration.
  • Have your child “talk through” a math problem, or explain what they are writing.
  • Don’t keep going over information till your child is bored: If your children already have information down pat, a little review is fine, but don’t keep going over it and over it until they get bored. If you think they still need some practice, come up with a variety of ways to review, instead of doing the same thing the same way.
  • What if your child doesn’t want to be tutored? Try to find out why your child doesn’t want to be tutored. Tutoring by a parent may be a new and intimidating experience for children, or fellow students or friends might be teasing them about it. Help your children understand the purpose and value of the tutoring. Make your explanations understandable; use stories and illustrations from your own life or from the lives of people they know and/or admire. Share times when you’ve needed extra help yourself, and how it helped you. Show how learning is an on-going experience – an adventure, even – and tutoring is a useful tool along a trail that is part of their whole life.
  • Be creative and imaginative as you work with your child. Always be looking for and/or inventing new and interesting ways of learning. Discover what motivates the individual child – what she is especially interested in. When she explains something to you, be interested and thank her. Learning together is the best way to learn.
  • If your child seems unwilling to participate sometimes, try to find out why. Ask him how he feels about it, and listen respectfully to his answers. Ask him what he would do if he was the tutor and you were the student. Pay attention to his answers – you might find out something important that you can use to improve his learning experience. Also, observe your child: does he seem to be: Anxious or nervous? Why?–   Intimidated (by you? by the learning environment? by pressure to achieve? or?) — Discouraged about her ability? — Blaming herself (or someone else? who? why?) — Overwhelmed? In what way? — Preoccupied by issues outside the learning experience? — Concerned about an upcoming exam or other classroom situation?
  • What level should you start at? If the work you are doing with your child is too hard, do not be afraid to go back to a simpler level. Identify what is “missing” and solve that. Once “gaps” are filled, the child’s progress will likely take a big leap forward.
  • Be positive in your interactions with your child, but at the same time give direction for improvement. Give supportive feedback, encourage deeper focus, give constructive correction to misunderstandings, praise strong skills and effort while also encouraging practice of neglected skills. And link praise to specific achievements. But do not provide “empty praise” or praise a student for behaviour that is clearly lazy or comes from habitual negative attitudes.
  • Get feedback from your child, as well as from your own observations. Ask questions such as: Do you have any questions about the work we’ve been doing? Is there something I did not explain clearly? What is the most important thing you learned? What did you like? Do you feel some of what we studied is unimportant? Why? Is there something else you’d like to explore and learn more about?

What if nothing you try seems to work? If you realise that, despite everything you have tried, the learning relationship between yourself and your child is not working out, you may need to find a different solution. Here are some possibilities:

  • Brain Break: Perhaps your child needs a period of “brain break.” Encourage the child to keep on learning through a personal interest/passion that they can focus on for a while, then try coming back to what you were working on. Maybe you can even work the concept into the child’s interest. For example, if the child is upset about learning fractions, but loves to bake, do some baking together for a while, and have the child double or triple the recipe!
  • Other issues that may be interfering: It may be that your child has a medical issue or personal issue that needs to be solved before carrying on with “academic” issues. Set the academics aside while you solve other issues.
  • A different tutor: Or your child may need a different tutor until your relationship improves. Important as parent-tutoring is, you do not want it to destroy the rest of your relationship with your child.
  • Get insight and help from others. Discuss your child’s needs with her teacher, coaches, and other important adults in her life who may be able to provide insight.

Comments and responses: Have these tips been helpful? Do you have any specific questions? How about tips you can add? Please share with us in the comments! Thank you.

Other posts in this series, “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor”:

  1. Why children need parent-tutors
  2. Important activities parent-tutors can do well
  3. Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship
  4. Learning Styles, Intelligences, and Behaviours
  5. Developing Individualised Tutoring–Tips for Parents
  6. Monitoring Your Child’s Progress
  7. Some Basic Learning Goals
  8. Home Tutoring Resources
  9. Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home
  10. Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades
  11. Specific Considerations for Intermediate Grades
  12. When to Consider Hiring a Tutor
  13. Costs of Tutors and Alternatives
  14. All Kinds of Learning Activities
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