Uncooperative/Unsupportive Parents

Hi All,

I was just wondering how you guys approach situations like this:

I am currently tutoring a child in Year 3 and she is a lovely little girl but I have noticed that she can sometimes struggle to understand my questions. She speaks fluent English and as far as I am concerned, she is not EAL either (parents have not mentioned this though but I will express my issue on this later). I will ask questions such as “are there any words that you don’t know the meaning of?” (or something similar) and 99% of children will tell me all the words they are unsure of. This child will pick 1 or 2 and when I ask is there any more she tells me no. I test this by asking her about other words I think she may not understand and she tells me she does not know what it means. I express that it is important to tell me every word she does not understand as I cannot help her if she does not tell me, yet she still seems to do the same thing repeatedly. Another example is when I am trying to guide her to the right answer. I will give her hints (by directing her e.g. telling her where she can find the answer) or emphasising the part which is wrong (using my voice) and she does not pick up on this no matter how obvious I make it. I once directed her saying the other part of the answer was in the same sentence and she looked at another part of the text completely. She struggles to identify when something is grammatically incorrect and cannot pick up on any cues.

I have, of course, shared these concerns with the parents multiple times over the past few lessons and have asked for their feedback/thoughts in order to help me in case there is any other information (e.g. if she is EAL) that I need to know to support her properly, but they are not responding to any emails/messages. I know they are receiving them as they have responded in the past, but they seem to lack any form of communication. I would speak to them about this at the beginning or end of the lesson but the parents are never there to speak to (or are busy) and I am at a loss as to how to support the child.

It has got to a point where, unfortunately, I am almost dreading the lessons as I feel like I am getting nowhere and it is something that I am doing wrong. I am not sure if the child wants to be there either which is also concerning. I try my best to make my lessons fun and engaging of course, but whenever I have had any concerns and have expressed these to other parents, they are extremely supportive and very responsive to what I am highlighting. I feel no support from the parents and I am doing everything I possibly can to alter my teaching/lessons to support her but nothing seems to be working.

How would you go about this situation? What would you do?


Interesting question and I don’t know if I have the answer. But just wanted to highlight something you mentioned.

Whenever I have my students read a text, I never say ‘are there any words you don’t understand’ or ‘do you have any questions’. Instead, I say ‘Which words don’t you understand’ or ‘Tell me ALL the words you don’t understand’, and ‘Which questions do you have now’. This seems to make my students think more than just a yes/no questions and they often actively scan the text or rack their brains to find more questions.

Other than that, I’m not sure how to deal with a situation like this. As you say, most parents are very supportive of tutoring. Is there anything else you could focus on with the student for a few lessons, maybe activities that don’t involve these sorts of issues?

I will be interested to follow this thread and see what other tutors think.



Thank you so much for your response!

I would ask this question but I feel that her response to this would be that she doesn’t have any questions. She doesn’t seem to ask any questions at all, even when I try to encourage this. At the start I always say to them that if they read a word and they don’t know what it means, they can ask me and I will tell them but she doesn’t seem to be very pro-active.

Unfortunately I would cover other areas but the parents are very strict on what I cover with the child which makes things more challenging. I pick a variety of activities in both Maths and English that could spark interest and have general discussion with her e.g. who is your favourite author/what is your favourite book? And the responses are usually “I don’t know”, “I don’t have one” or “I’m not sure”… if I do get an answer it is very short and she does not seem to want to chat. It is as if she doesn’t want to be there and wants it over with as soon as possible. I’m at a loss on what to do really… :pensive:


Hi Ns

oh how I understand where you are coming from. I have had similar students like this one I can think of very clearly. Honestly I find, you need to find something that they like to speak about whether it’s a favourite singer, subject, book. When you need, pull this weapon out. I use to have a little girl like this only she wouldn’t speak at all now we laugh and sometimes she’s in fits and I can’t get her to stop talking but I think back to the times when she would shut down. It’s about finding a common ground. It would be a good idea to speak to the parents too and explain your concerns they are paying for your support so if you have concerns surely you can ask them for some guidance.


Sounds like a really challenging student, made worse by the fact that the parents are strict about areas covered, but also don’t seem to be very present to actually discuss progress. I wish you all the best with this situation. @sanak_tutor’s advice about finding common ground with the student is spot on, in my opinion.


The problem is, they aren’t responding to any concerns I bring up… no matter what I say they aren’t working with me at all.

I’ve tried conversations like this, finding interests etc. And it has literally just been shut down straight away, I’ve sounded so enthusiastic no matter how little I know about the subject but nothing at all seems to work…

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Do you think the young student is lacking in confidence? Perhaps she doesn’t want to tell you what she doesn’t understand as she is fearful to make a mistake or would be embarrassed that she doesn’t know. It is no reflection on you, but we have all had timid students who take a while to open up. Perhaps you need to ask more direct, specific questions and continue building rapport with her until she is comfortable enough in herself to answer your more open ended questions. For example, as you’re reading and you come to a word that you think she might not understand, ask her “what does … mean?”, and if she knows then give her loads of praise, and if she doesn’t, then teach her and revisit that word again.

Good luck!


I get it honestly it’s really tricky but I kept on and She finally broke and gave in as did I. I found it so hard she wouldn’t talk but I believe if you keep at it hopefully she will break through.

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I don’t think she is lacking confidence as she will answer questions very confidently, I feel it is either an understanding issue (not understanding my questions or what I am saying) or if she is relying on me to tell her the answer. I will correct her and tell her something is not correct (especially in maths) but she repeats the answer. It is a very tricky situation.

I agree with the way you ask questions so that the student has to think, which is an important aspect of language comprehension. It is also important, as you know, in foreign languages that the student develops the ability to use gist and context to aid understanding and focussing on individual words, although necessary, is not always essential for answering an individual question.