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Does Your Child Need a Tutor?

When Tutoring Hurts

Some students may feel embarrassed about needing a tutor. If your child asks you not to tell anyone she is being tutored, respect her right to privacy. Take care not to hurt your child's self-esteem or make her feel as though she's bad at a whole subject by setting clear and specific tutoring goals, advises Barry Hoonan, a teacher in the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington State, who in 2005 was named outstanding middle school language arts teacher by the National Council of Teachers of English. "Once kids reach fifth and sixth grade, their sense of self is so important," he says. "They often come to the misguided notion that they are being tutored because they are stupid or because they are going to be dumb in math forever."

To avoid this problem, Hoonan advises parents to think small and tell their child exactly what skills the tutor will help her master. It's also important to stay positive. You might say something like, "I've noticed you've been struggling a bit with multiplying and dividing fractions. Let's get someone to help you really nail that skill." That way the child knows tutoring will not go on indefinitely.

"For a child to be able to target a particular outcome and get the results he wants is very fulfilling," says Hoonan. "It actually makes kids more enthusiastic learners." And experiencing success also makes a child more open to working with a tutor should a need for one arise again in the future.

In other cases parents hire tutors even though their children are doing well in school in order to gain an academic edge. That's fine, as long as your child wants to be a star, and doesn't complain about having to be tutored or say he's stressed by the extra study sessions. However, in recent years some parents have begun to expect children to perform at academic levels that are not age appropriate or that interfere with their ability to have a healthy, well-rounded life. "Parents want their children to know more, but knowing more doesn't necessarily make them smarter," says Susan J. Schwartz, clinical coordinator of the Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement at New York University Child Study Center. "Cramming kids' heads too full of information and not taking development into account will push and hurry a child -- and potentially turn her off to learning."

To decide whether your child will benefit from tutoring that may propel him to the head of his class, follow his lead. Let him be the one to ask for a tutor or extra work in a particular subject. If your child doesn't request it, but you still feel you want to enrich his educational experience, make sure he will continue to have enough downtime for activities he enjoys, like sports, video games, or simply hanging out with his friends. Otherwise, you're putting your child at risk for academic burnout.