Nine tips to get your child to their first tutoring session (and 9 tactics to avoid!)

Bribery, threatening, guilt trips – we’ve all dabbled in these methods of persuasion when it comes to getting our kids to do the stuff we want them to do, but that they don’t necessarily want to do. But there are other methods you could try instead. Here are 9 of our best.

tips to get your child to their first tutoring session
Cluey Learning Friday, 14 October 2022

(by Casey Standen)

Some children love tutoring. They seek it out, beg their parents, do extra work and look forward to their tutoring sessions. If you’ve clicked your way here, then your child probably isn’t doing that. They may not want tutoring; they may think it’s a waste of time or that you’re ruining their life by even suggesting it. But you know how valuable tutoring is as part of their education. So how do you get your reluctant child to their first tutoring session?

Despite our best efforts, there’s still no universal solution for getting young people to do things that are good for them without the drama, so we’ve rounded up ten tried and tested strategies for you to tailor to your situation. We’ve also listed ten tactics to avoid – quick bandaids that might seem to solve the problem in the moment but can create much bigger ones later on.

1. Talk it through 

No one likes to have decisions made for them. If tutoring is presented to your child like an edict, that’s a one-way ticket to Resentment Town. Talking it over and walking them through your motivations and thought processes gives them some reassurance that tutoring isn’t a punishment, that you don’t think they’re stupid, and that there is scope for them to be involved in any decisions and discussions around it.

2. Butter them up

Asking a reluctant child to go to tutoring is asking them to make themselves vulnerable to a stranger. That kind of vulnerability is much easier to face when you’ve just had a big dose of meaningful and specific parental praise.

Tell them you’re proud of them, of their bravery, grit, perseverance and resilience. Let them know that while they may benefit from tutoring in one subject, you see how well they’re doing in another, or how much you value their creativity and dedication with a hobby that they love.

Telling them “I love you” is always a winner, but giving specific praise makes it much harder for your child to dismiss the compliment with “parents have to say that”.

3. Be prepared to bargain

Kids have a lot on their plates. Sure, they don’t have bills to pay, colleagues to contend with, dinner to plan or the rising cost of petrol to ruminate over. But they do have six or seven subjects to tackle every day as well as sports and hobbies that feel like work, hormone-fuelled friendships to navigate and a lot of physical growing to do. 

Adding tutoring to their to-do list might just feel like the last straw for your child, so be prepared to bargain. Try trading an hour of tutoring a week for their music lesson with that instrument they no longer love. Or, resources allowing, if they do tutoring ‘for you’ then they get to do that art class they’ve been eyeing off for themselves. 

Bargaining means showing your child that you respect them, their time and their interests. The goal is to ease pressure and prioritise perceived benefit to them. Don’t let it turn into bribery, which we tackle below.

4. Prepare

Have you ever been to a medical appointment where you don’t know the doctor, what the problem is or how they’re going to test what’s going on? Remember that feeling in the waiting room or when you watch them put on gloves? Your child might feel exactly the same way about tutoring. 

An easy way to manage this anticipatory void is to build some expectations: 

*What kind of things will a tutor probably ask them, or talk about with them? School work, marks and things they’re interested in. 

*Will there be a test in the first five minutes? No! 

*Should they bring anything? No, but if there’s a burning question then sure! 

*How long will it go for? Depends on your booking but normally no more than an hour.  

*What do I call the tutor? They will tell you. It’ll probably their first name, but we do all also respond to ‘Miss/Sir’ or ‘Mr/Mrs Last Name’. We also don’t take offence at the accidental ‘Mum/Dad’. 

Any other questions – ask the tutor or the tutoring company! It’s in everyone’s best interests that the first session goes well, so don’t be shy about preparation.

5. Lower the stakes

Make sure your child knows that their behaviour in the session, their reaction afterwards and their perception of the value of the session will in no way impact their relationship with you. 

Before the session starts, make a plan for afterwards; what you’ll eat for dinner, whether or not you’ll go to the park or watch a movie together, and which movie? If you decide these things with your child’s preferences in mind and follow through regardless of what happens in their tutoring session, you’re lowering the stakes so that your child can relax, knowing that their world won’t be impacted by their tutoring session.

6. Create shortcuts

It can take a long time for anyone to process a new and stimulating interaction like tutoring, but you can work with your child to code in some immediate feedback and help them to feel seen and safe while they’re processing. One way is to decide on some signals and shortcuts that they can use to communicate how they’re feeling and reacting, mid-session. Some ideas:

Signal: ’Get me out now’

Shortcut: Text parent a pre-decided, unrelated word that can’t be used accidentally during the session. This may seem excessive but for kids with trauma, neurodiversity or just strong intuition it can be fundamentally enabling to have a plan like this, and for kids without those complexities, a safety net is always a bonus.

Signal: ‘This is great, I’ve got this’

Shortcut: Text parent a thumbs up to let them know they can stop hovering or worrying for the rest of the session time.

Another idea is to decide in advance with your child that the first question you’ll ask after tutoring is ‘Are we going to have another session?’ This puts you on the same team, gives your child the choice and saves them from justifying that choice because they may not be able to yet. With the same forewarning, let them know that if the answer is ‘no’ then there are some follow up questions that they can answer in their own time like ‘is there anything you wish the tutor could just know without being told?’ or ‘would you be interested in changing tutors?’. That opens the door for troubleshooting with the tutor or the tutoring company but doesn’t ask more than a yes or no from your child.

7. Negotiate goals

The first tutoring session is a lot like an interview. The tutor is trying to figure out where your child is in their learning, what their goals are and how they can best help your child. You can help your child to take advantage of this by preparing some goals, hopes, and expectations to discuss with the tutor. 

This can be a great opportunity to learn about your child. You may not share the same goals, and they might surprise you with their interests or perceptions of themselves. By articulating these goals together, you’re showing that you respect them as a person who will one day be independent of you.

Knowing that their goals matter means your child can also think about goals that they might not want to share with you. From experience, that can range from ‘I just want to keep my parent from nagging me about this subject’ to ‘I just want to beat my sibling in this subject’ and ‘I just want to be able to show my parent that I’m not dumb’. These kinds of goals help tutors to judge your child’s priorities and concerns, and can shape how the tutor coaches your child to build their confidence and self-esteem, and to reframe their goals into more positive mindsets.

8. Build some boundaries

Hiring a tutoring service, like hiring any kind of help, is not the same as hiring a fairy godparent to dissolve every problem your child faces. Tutoring cannot make someone smarter, happier, calmer or more organised. But it can help your child to find new and different pathways to using and demonstrating their intelligence, to practice difficult skills, to reframe their perceptions of their abilities, to find their aptitudes and to cultivate more peaceful work styles. 

Drawing clear boundaries around your child’s expectations of the tutoring process, and being realistic about what can be achieved through tutoring, can help them to face that first session. Knowing that their tutor isn’t out to change them but is likely to prompt helpful changes in their academic behaviour, can be a big relief to the reluctant child. 

It also empowers them to control what they tell the tutor – they don’t have to tell their tutor about their physical health, friendship dramas, fears, dreams or film preferences if they don’t want to. The tutor is there to help them, not to fix them.

9. Practice what you preach

Two of the most motivating feelings for humans are camaraderie and competition. These have their benefits and drawbacks in education and society, but in the context of getting a reluctant child to tutoring, you can hack these drives to help your child and yourself. 

Tutoring is about learning on purpose. So why not try the same thing yourself? 

Do a deal with your child that while they’re in tutoring, you’re learning something challenging too. Whether it’s a new language, a skill you’ve been reluctant to gain at work or putting yourself outside of your comfort zone in your side hustle, sharing the challenge with your child will be deeply motivating for you both. You’ll also be able to talk about your progress as equals and get to know each other better.

Tactics to Avoid

1. Don’t bribe or threaten: this is the easiest and most damaging trap to fall into. It demotivates your child, makes you feel like an ogre and inhibits communication.

2. Don’t surprise them: How would you enjoy a surprise performance review at work or a surprise visit to the dentist? No? Then don’t do it to your child when the goal is for them to learn.

3. Don’t pull rank: Telling a child they’re going to do something because you said so, or they’re going because they’re going, is not going to encourage them to learn. This is an understandable tactic, and can be useful for getting chores done, but for meaningful activities it damages trust, self-perception and communication.

4. Don’t compare or make it a competition: Telling your child that they’re not as smart as someone or that they need to maintain their edge on someone tells them that you value them based on their performance against others. That’s a recipe for anxiety, low self-esteem and resentment. Similarly, comparing a child to their siblings, relatives or peers can only set children up for disappointment and distrust.  It assumes that everyone has the same intellectual and emotional resources. Not even conjoined twins have the same intelligence, skills, abilities or interests.

5. Don’t dismiss them: If you dismiss tutoring as normal or as “not a big deal”, you’re telling your reluctant child that their concerns aren’t valid.

6. Don’t guilt them: If your child hasn’t asked for tutoring, why make them feel guilty about your choice to spend their time and your money on it? Even if it works, guilt is not a positive starting point for taking ownership of your learning.

7. Don’t martyr yourself: Tutoring for your child might be a part of your efforts to give them opportunities you didn’t have, and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s helpful for children to know how lucky they are, but, like guilt, trapping your child into tutoring with parental self-sacrifice is not a healthy starting point.

8. Don’t make assumptions: Forcing your child into tutoring so that they can achieve a particular ATAR or pursue a particular career without checking that they actually have an interest in those goals for themselves closes off meaningful conversations about your child’s priorities, interests and personality. If your child has their heart set on a particular post-school path, knows the way to get there and is achieving what they need to to get there, then tutoring in an irrelevant subject risks wasting their time and emotional energy.

9. Don’t blame the teacher/s: Learning is a complicated thing with many factors at play, so blame is an entirely unhelpful, and distracting concept in education. It can also teach your child that it’s ok to find someone to blame instead of taking responsibility for themselves.

Blame is not going to give your child any positive emotions about going to that first tutoring session, so even if it’s a factor in your situation, try a different tactic to get them into tutoring.


How can Cluey help?

Cluey’s team of enthusiastic, empathetic and intuitive educators are happy to help get your child to their first tutoring session, to facilitate communication between you, your child and the tutor and to respond to your child’s evolving needs as they grow and learn. 

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