Planning To Tutor Your Own Kids? Read This First!

You may have heard that parents should never teach their own kids, but what if you don’t have a choice? After all, tuition fees can add up, and if your child is already being tutored in one subject (such as second language), you may want to fill the gaps for other subjects, especially at the primary school level. But is this worth straining the relationship between you and your child?

The first thing you’ll have to accept is that even if you’re a trained teacher, you may find it challenging to teach your own children. For one, it’s hard to be objective about your own children, because you’re emotionally invested in them. Parents may project their anxieties about their children’s futures, and how it reflects on their parenting, while children may be extra sensitive to parental feedback. If in doubt, always prioritise your relationship with your child — learning can wait.

Talk To Your Child’s Teachers

It’s important to remember that you are not your child’s teacher, and it’s not your job to meet the demands of the school syllabus. Instead, focus on the building blocks that will make your child a better learner.

If your child’s teacher has informed you that your child is struggling to keep pace with the rest of the class, you will understandably be concerned. You can ask the teacher for something specific that you can do to help your child improve. For example, in math, a firm grasp of the multiplication tables enables your child to focus on applying math to solve problems, and you won’t need a math degree or teaching qualification to help your child memorise the times tables.

>> Read KSP’s guide to learning the times tables.

What if your child’s teacher hasn’t provided any feedback, but your child isn’t doing as well as you’d hoped in graded assignments? You don’t have to wait till the parent-teacher meeting — you can send a note to your child’s teacher to find out the following:

  • Is your child having trouble concentrating during lessons? 
  • Does your child have reading and comprehension issues?
  • Does your child suffer from test anxiety?

This will help you identify common learning issues that you can help rectify. At home, do also look out for the following signs of poor concentration:

  • Does your child study with the TV on, or is he or she constantly distracted by devices?
  • Can your child read or work for only about 15 minutes before getting bored?

>> Read KSP’s guides for supporting unmotivated and struggling learners.

If your child has reading and comprehension issues, you will notice these behaviours:

  • Your child needs to reread instructions or passages several times for better understanding.
  • Your child reads, but doesn’t retain much information.
  • Your child dislikes reading.

>> Find out if your child might have a learning disability, or get tips on encouraging reluctant readers to pick up a book.

Finally, if your child has test anxiety, look out for these patterns:

  • Your child is prone to last-minute work, which creates or adds to anxiety.
  • Your child is nervous about tests and exams. 
  • Your child tends to perform below expectations during assessments, even with ample preparation.

>> Learn how to respond to your children’s results with sensitivity, and get science-backed tips for combating exam stress.

Create A Good Study Environment

Studies have shown that clutter can tax the brain, because it has to work harder to filter out objects in the visual field. To get your home tutoring off to a good start, declutter the study environment: put everything in its place, and get rid of study materials that you’re not likely to use.

If your child prefers to listen to music during a study session, choose instrumental music, such as classical music, which is less distracting. Play the same music during each study session, and it will serve as a study cue for your child, to subconsciously signal that it is time to focus.

You can also decide on the best time to work with your child, be it in the afternoons, in the evenings, or even after dinner. What qualifies as the “best” time is dependent on your child, as some children do function better towards the night, where they feel more energetic and focused. Also, if your child is currently only able to be attentive for about 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch, begin with that, and gently extend the sessions by 5-minute blocks as you go along. Factor in breaks after each session, and don’t try to accomplish too much in one day.

Use School-Recommended Strategies

To minimise stress and preparation on your part, as well as to avoid confusion for your child, use the materials and guidelines provided by your child’s teachers when helping your child to review his or her work.

For instance, if your child’s school has taught the “CUB” method for tackling comprehension questions — where students circle anything to do with the 5Ws and 1H (who, what, where, when, why, how), underline tenses, and bracket words that might be required in the answer — stick with that method unless there is a sound reason to introduce an alternative method.

If your child has made mistakes in his or her school homework, you can make a copy of those questions for retesting. But if you find that the school materials are difficult for your child to understand, then you may want to look at alternative sources.

As you decide on what you would like to help your child with, the question to ask is this: is my objective to help my child get an A, or to become a better learner? A parent who is preoccupied with grades will likely feel greater frustration and may even be tempted to complete or overcorrect a child’s work, while a parent who is focused on learning will be mindful of giving a child space to think, and more crucially, to make mistakes.

Plan Your Home Tutoring Sessions

In her book “How To Tutor Your Own Child” (available at NLB), professional tutor Marina Ruben recommends a six-step approach for setting up a tutoring session:

  1. Give your undivided attention, e.g. by turning off your own devices. 
  2. Greet your child in a positive manner and let him or her know how long your session will last.
  3. Find out what’s new: What has your child learned today? What was interesting? What was challenging?
  4. Find out what your child needs to accomplish for the day, be it new assignments, or corrections for previous assignments. This is a chance to review your child’s written work to spot potential areas of concern. (See how a KSP member did this.)
  5. Check your child’s understanding of concepts. Once you’ve shown your child how to solve a problem, ask him or her to explain the steps for solving a similar problem. Or ask, “How does this work?” and “What does this mean, in your own words?”
  6. Check if there are things that your child needs to memorise, be it math formulas, vocabulary words, or science facts. Mnemonics (a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assist in remembering something) are helpful, as are visual images or mental pictures. Even touch can be useful for activating one’s memory — try associating an item on a list with a part of the body, just for fun!

>> Read what exam-savvy parents do differently to help kids prepare for exams, and refer to our list of 15 exam mistakes commonly made by kids, to see if your child is prone to such errors too.

If Necessary, Seek External Help

There are situations where it might be wiser to outsource the tutoring, if one can afford it. These include:

  • A strained parent-child relationship that makes it difficult to work together
  • When the parent does not understand the academic content
  • When a child refuses a parent’s help
  • When a child has a special learning need

Do seek advice from your child’s school teachers, to see if they have suggestions or can provide additional support, such as with remedial classes. For general tutoring, if you live in heartland neighbourhoods and are open to your child joining group classes, they can be quite affordable (e.g. less than $30 for a two-hour class), and your child may prefer the dynamics of a group class. Talk to your neighbours to see if there’s a tutor living in your estate — those who run group classes from home may charge even lower rates.