Thursday, January 9, 2014

How Do I Deal with a Helicopter Parent?

Image courtesy of WikiWorld.
Written reports of your lessons to parents are your primary means of communication with parents, or at least they should be your primary means of communication.  Every now and again you’ll come across a helicopter-to-beat-all-helicopters, a parent who wants not only to sit in on your lessons, but also to communicate with you on a daily basis about your student’s progress.  In such severe circumstances, it is incumbent upon the tutor (you!) to teach the helicopter how, where, and why to park the aircraft.  No one wants to work beneath a raucous rotator.

Repeat after me: “I’m available to you, Dear Parent, but I am not on tap!”

Parents and students alike must respect your boundaries, but it is still incumbent upon you to set those boundaries.

Maintaining good, consistent, records of lessons will help greatly ameliorate the many concerns of the over-concerned parents by providing critical regular updates and feedback, allowing you the time and breathing space in which to better achieve at your true job, tutoring.

It is important to keep in mind that an overly involved parent truly has the best interests of her (not letting dads off the hook here, but I prefer to work with one pronoun!) child at heart, but perhaps she is unaware of the detrimental effects her behavior has on her child.  For one, if she hovers (lame pun, I know) in the room while you are tutoring, she may believe that she can offer helpful assistance if needed; however, the child of a helicopter who is already struggling in a subject will better benefit from having the opportunity to engage with a tutor who won't consistently try to solve his problems for him.  Helicopter children are used to having mom and dad step in to make decisions and problem solve in every instance, which denies the child the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and develop his own creative problem solving skills.  You, the tutor, have the opportunity to serve as an advocate for this poor little helicopter baby by making sure that the parent observes the space necessary for their student to grow independently as a learner.

Sometimes it can be challenging to distinguish between a helicopter and parent who simply is unsure of whether or not she is expected to play a role in the tutoring lesson.  In the case of the latter, ask directly (and immediately if possible) if the child (or siblings) has ever worked with a tutor before; if not, then help the parent out by explaining that she does not have to sit in on lessons.  Most likely, she'll be relieved to have some time to herself!  When I've tutored at libraries, most moms and dads have loved the opportunity to peruse the books.  One couple used to bring their younger daughter to the library while I was tutoring their son, using the time to introduce their baby girl to the children's section of the library; she's a great reader now! 

An easy way that I set boundaries up-front is to say to both parent and student in the first session, "Let's all take a look at the materials you've brought, discuss any concerns that you have, and then (looking directly at the student), Sally, you and I will let mom go and [look at the books/ grab a coffee/ take a little break--whichever is appropriate!] while we work together.  This will help me make a better assessment of your learning style and we can get a better sense of what our lessons will be like together.  Then, we'll bring mom back, and discuss our ideas for moving forward with a learning plan."  This method works for both helicopters and parents unfamiliar with tutoring. 

Kiddos aren't dumb; they'll instantly recognize that you dismissed mom or dad to focus directly on them, and in most cases, this is enough to transform you immediately into student-confidante-extraordinaire.  If you can make a student believe that you work for their best interest--not mom or dads--then they will open up to you about school concerns, classes in which they are struggling, and questions they may have much more quickly.  By showing the student that you care about what he has to say about how he's doing in school and why he thinks his parents have sent him to tutoring, you will help develop a more trusting relationship, which in turn, will help you get him on the right track to making improvements faster.

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