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What to Do If Your Child Needs a Tutor

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

Now that the school year is well underway, it might be clear that your child is falling behind in key skills or essential subjects. The school can only do so much. To get your child back on track and level with her classmates, you might be thinking of hiring a tutor.

If this is your situation, then here are some points to consider.

Get clear direction from your child’s teacher. Some kids are behind in subject-matter skills, like arithmetic or phonics. Other kids lack focus and organization skills. It’s important to know exactly where the problems lie, if you’re going to find a tutor capable of making a change.

Decide if you can do the tutoring yourself. There are advantages to being your child’s tutor: less cost and more flexibility in the schedule are two. But there are disadvantages too, if you are uncertain how to teach what needs to be learned or if you are likely to get impatient with your child or let sessions slide. If you really can do this work and really want to, then here are some steps to take:

  1. Set daily goals for practice. Daily practice is the most important thing. It’s too easy to let things slide but there’s no way to cram 10 weeks of work into the last two weeks before the term ends. So make working on school skills part of the regular routine of every single day.
  2. Round up practice materials. Every bookstore has workbooks and that’s a good starting point. But also try to locate instructional websites for kids and good books to read. Math, reading and writing are part of everyday life. Make opportunities to find these in the activities your child does for fun.
  3. Choose a location that signals “this is serious.”  You might find it works best to hold tutoring sessions with your child at the local library  or some other place different from home. This makes this session more formal, less open to interruption, and assures that you and she will take the time needed to really make progress. If you can’t leave the house for your tutoring sessions, at least designate a particular time and place, and turn off distractions.
  4. Be professional and pleasant. Your child already knows he’s behind. He doesn’t need you to threaten him or get frustrated. If your child doesn’t understand or can’t master a skill, find alternative ways to explain it. You and your child share equally the responsibility for teaching and learning.

You might decide you want to hire someone else instead. If that’s so, then here are some factors to consider. 

  1. Find a tutor with the greatest chance of success. You might consider a high school or college student you know. You might choose a tutoring center. Or you might select an independent tutor who takes individual students. Your school district might have a list of local tutors or other parents might be able to refer you. But this is your money and your child’s future at stake. Find someone you have confidence in.
  2. Be clear about what you want covered. Some tutoring services work to their own agendas and take a long time to start working on the skills your child needs right now. Make certain that while a tutor works on foundational skills your child missed years ago, he or she also works on grade-level skills or the homework help your child needs right now. Set clear goals with the tutor. 
  3. Schedule tutoring sessions at least weekly. A weekly tutoring session provides accountability and a chance to notice progress made and progress not-made. While a monthly or every-other-week schedule might cost less, it will also result in slower progress or no progress at all. You might find that twice-weekly sessions support your child the best.

If you or if someone else is your child’s tutor, the key is to not use tutoring as a punishment. Don’t threaten your child with tutoring if he doesn’t shape up at school. Don’t make comparisons between the child who needs tutoring and another child who is doing well in school. If you hire an outside tutor, that might mean there’s not enough time or money for an extracurricular activity, but resist the temptation to use tutoring as the reason for cutting back on fun things. Doing better at school shouldn’t come with negative effects.

Doing better at school starts early. Helping the child who is off to a weak start academically just makes sense. Starting tutoring early in the school year gets better results than waiting until the end of the school year.

One way or another, help your child to feel success.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.