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Does Your Child Need a Tutor, Coach, or Counsellor?

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Dread the thought of paying for your child’s tuition all the way through secondary school, or even during the tertiary years?

With some in-demand primary school tutors already charging $70 per hour and up, it’s only natural for parents to wonder when they can begin tapering off on such spending. Just imagine, if your primary schooler is tutored in four subjects for 1.5hours each week, you could be spending $420 a week on tutoring, which is equivalent to $1,680 per month or $20,160 a year!

We know of parents who have ramped up the academic support for the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) year—with tutoring for three or four subjects—but scaled down in Secondary 1 to no tuition, or tuition for only the Mother Tongue Language. Some parents have completely left it to their teens to oversee their own work, while others still attempt to manage their teens’ schoolwork by purchasing assessment books and sample papers, and helping to set up revision schedules.

Of course, we also hear of parents who have continued to rely heavily on tutoring in the secondary school years, adding on new tutors for more subjects.

While tutoring is a personal choice — subject to a family’s financial means — we would like to suggest some alternatives to consider. In this article, we look at two options that could benefit your child:

  1. Mentoring or Coaching
  2. Counselling

If you are open to looking beyond grades and exploring different academic support options for your child, these may be healthier solutions in the long run, because your child will learn to take charge of his or her own life, as well as deal with challenges independently. The financial investment will vary — it will depend on where you seek help from, as well as how long you intend to commit to sessions.

Mentoring Vs. Coaching: How Can This Help Your Child?

If you suspect that your child’s lacklustre academic performance is due to attitude rather than ability, piling on the tutoring will do little to address the root cause. Instead, you may want to consider switching to academic mentoring or coaching instead. But what do mentors and coaches do differently?

First of all, academic mentors and coaches are not trained teachers, and they will not be giving your child any homework help.

Instead, a mentor is a role model who shares their knowledge and skills with your child, in order to help your child grow. A coach on the other hand is someone who can help your child to identify current roadblocks and solutions, in order to reach his or her full potential.

The key difference between the two is that a mentor is more prescriptive. In other words, mentors will typically delve into their personal experiences, and talk about how they have overcome similar challenges in the past. A coach will focus on asking targeted questions instead, to help your child reflect on problems and possible solutions. 

Anyone can be an academic mentor to your child, as long as they are willing to spend quality time conversing with your child on a regular basis. If your child’s school does not have a mentoring system, the best mentors would be your trusted friends and family members (or their children), whom you are already in regular contact with. 

For best results, pick a mentor who will understand the academic challenges that your child is facing. Let’s say your child is struggling with a school subject that he or she wants to excel in. Is there someone in your network who has dealt with this challenge without tutoring? You can ask if he or she is willing to spend time with your child, to:

  • Teach your child good learning habits, such as taking effective notes and taking initiative to clarify doubts.
  • Help your child to identify useful learning resources online. It’s a sadly common fact that one may not understand a teacher’s explanation, even after seeking clarification. Many motivated students have turned to YouTube for additional help—and thankfully, there are excellent teachers who have made their lesson videos freely accessible for everyone.
  • Support your child to become an independent learner. This may involve showing your child how to use an app to track learning or draw up a revision timetable, or talking to your child about next steps, if an assignment or test result is less than ideal.

You should certainly offer to pay a mentor for the time spent with your child, but often, loved ones will be happy to provide their advice for free!

Prefer the idea of a professional relationship, and have the financial bandwidth to hire an academic coach for your child? Do note that the coaching process will be very different from mentoring, and here are the key differences between both approaches: 

Mentors Coaches
Share stories about their experiences Ask questions to help child/teen reflect on motivations, goals, challenges
Give advice based on their experiences Listen carefully to responses, to hear what is being said, as well as what is being implied
Recommend helpful resources and coping strategies Give feedback or ask further questions based on responses, to guide child/teen to define immediate and long-term goals, roadblocks, and solutions

In general, coaches work on the premise that every individual has the answers to solve their own problems and transform their life for the better. Therefore, the most important skill for a coach is the ability to ask the right questions, in order to make your child think harder about what he or she wants, and how to get there.

Who is Counselling Most Suitable For, and How Can It Help Your Child?

Is your child unable to focus in school because of issues stemming from the home environment, or a traumatic experience earlier in life? A counsellor might be more appropriate for your child. 

Here’s a general way to differentiate between coaches and counsellors — coaches tend to focus on what’s next in life. They look at what’s not working right now, and provide support to craft a plan for a better future life. You can think of the process as putting thoughts into action.

In contrast, counsellors focus on feelings, and whether certain feelings are related to past traumas. Because of these debilitating feelings, one may be unable to function at the optimal level in school or elsewhere, until there has been healing from past hurts. 

If your child is ‘stuck’ in life, such as not having a sense of what subjects or career paths are of interest, or seemingly unmotivated to do more, a coach can help to clarify what it is that your child desires to achieve. 

However, if your child is dealing with a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, or body image insecurities, a counsellor would be better qualified to address these conditions. Within Singapore, you can easily find a counsellor through the Singapore Association of Counsellors’ directory, which lists registered counsellors who have clocked a certain number of practice hours and kept up with their training. Unfortunately there isn’t a similar directory for coaches, as their training is more varied, but a simple Google search will turn up enough links for you to check out.

Whether you choose to approach a coach or a counsellor, you should know that a credible professional will only take on a client if they are equipped and qualified to help that client. Take it as a red flag if you’re pressured to sign up for a package without even being sure that the professional you’re seeing is really suitable for your child’s needs. Coaches in particular tend to offer a free call to ascertain the fit — this may be the best first option, to get a better sense of what you’re looking for!

Want to talk to other parents about coaching and mentoring, or counselling? Join the conversations on our KSP forum!

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