How to Work with a Tutor When Stress and Anxiety Rule

School Stress 101: What’s Going on in Your Child’s Head and How to Help

Many parents contact us after years of having hired tutor after tutor without seeing their child find success. When this is the case, they’re frustrated, the child is defeated, and no one is excited about starting another relationship with yet another tutor with little hope of seeing a different result. If you’re hiring a tutor for your school-anxious child, get the answers to three questions before you spend any more of your hard-earned budget.



Many parents contact us after years of having hired tutor after tutor without seeing their child find success. When this is the case, they’re frustrated, the child is defeated, and no one is excited about starting another relationship with yet another tutor with little hope of seeing a different result.

That was the case for the male student I talked about in the last episode, and after seeing his complete 180 in school, his mom asked to talk with me about his sister, who I’ll call Sam.

Sam had been a strong student through middle school, and was in 8th grade when COVID-19 sent all students into emergency remote learning, which meant that she spent the end of 8th grade and the entirety of her first year of high school on Zoom.

Nevertheless, Sam maintained her grades. She took Honors and AP courses and advanced-level math classes.

But in the first couple of months of her Junior year, Sam started to fail Calculus and she was taking it very hard. Mom hired her a tutor, but it was not helping at all. Sam’s mom saw dark circles forming under Sam’s eyes and noticed she wasn’t eating normally. Then came a message from her Calculus teacher that Sam was sleeping through every class period, and that was followed by emotional breakdowns at home about failed math tests. 

So, Sam’s mom asked me, what can be done?

Together, we determined the answers to three questions that revealed the pathway to Sam’s success.

If you’re hiring a tutor for your school-anxious child, get the answers to three questions before you spend any more of your hard-earned budget. We’ll dive into what those questions are after the break.

* * *

Imagine your teen or tween getting a handle on their school-related anxiety (and no longer adding to yours).

We see it all the time: Procrastination, Staying up way too late doing homework last-minute, Falling grades due to missed assignments, School-related meltdowns…These behaviors are often directly related to anxiety. And I can confidently tell you that these DO NOT have to be a part of your life this school year.

The School Without Suffering Toolkit equips students with concrete strategies and exercises that they can learn step by step and then revisit whenever they need to during the school year.

With the Toolkit, your child will be able to re-evaluate stress that’s negatively affecting them, initiate and execute academic tasks with ease, foster a growth mindset, manage their time effectively and healthfully, and complete their most anxiety-inducing homework with confidence.

AND, with the option to meet with an expert, empathetic School Without Suffering academic coach when they need some extra support, students will always be able to use the tools in their toolkits how they need to, when they need to to do and feel better.

Visit and use discount code PODCAST at check out for 10 percent off your purchase.


* * *

Welcome back! We’re talking about how to effectively work with tutors when kids are overwhelmed with stress and anxiety about school. And we’re looking at the story of School Without Suffering student Sam to help illustrate the three questions you need to ask before hiring help and why these questions work.

Remember that Sam’s mom never worried about her schoolwork the way that she had done with her brother, but in the first few couple months of Sam’s Junior year of high school, she started to notice some changes that she was worried about. Sam wasn’t missing any school assignments, but she was doing them in the wee hours of the morning, often not going to bed until 3:00 or 4:00am and she was starting to fail her Calculus class.

To help Sam, the first question that needed to be asked was:

How is your child spending their study time?

This question may appear to be self-evident. It’s their study time, so they’re studying.

But, especially if you have an older child, the answer to this question may not be apparent at all—to you, and possibly even to your child who disappears into their room after school.

If you’re considering hiring a tutor to help your child, there are a few likely answers to this question:

1.) They are, in fact, spending the whole time studying, which means they are wasting time and energy on academic tasks that seem like they are are not helping them learn, but they’re not.

2.) They are freezing up or spinning their wheels, finding ways to be busy at their desk but not making any progress on their assignments.

3.) They are getting distracted by any of the myriad 21st-century interruptions that plague all of us: their phone, YouTube, tech that I don’t even know about.

Each of these answers presents a different problem with a different solution. So it’s essential to determine what is happening specifically to identify who will be the best person to support your child and how they should best support them.

Now, I am not trying to set you up to ask your teen or tween what they are doing while they’re working just to be accused of nagging.

Instead, to get the answer to this question, have your child complete a time study for one school week. Consider doing it as a family, so they don’t feel singled out. (You might be surprised what you learn about your own time!)

Then, show the results to anyone you’re considering hiring for support and ask them how they can help solve the specific issues your child is having with their time.

In Sam’s case, she was spending all of her study time on her phone. She would come home on her phone, maybe take a nap, and then wake up and get right back on. Then around 11:00pm she would freak out about getting her work done, and then spend her sleeping time actually studying.

Sam’s mom had already realized this by the time we talked. In fact, she was worried about cell phone addiction, and she had tried to solve the issue by taking Sam’s phone away. But all that did was cause a rift in their relationship, and Sam was still not learning Calculus.

So that brought us to the next question that needs to be asked:

Why are the low grades low?

Sound familiar?

Here, we want to determine whether the issues they’re facing in school are specific or broad.

To answer this question, do the following:

1.) Determine which of your child’s grades you’re concerned about. Are all of their classes worrying you, or is it just one or two, like math and science?

2.) Especially for the courses you’re concerned about, look at your child’s grades in detail. Don’t just look at the course average. Review the grade for every assignment they have submitted for the term. Most schools give you access to this level of detail through an online grade book. If you don’t have this kind of access, ask your teacher for a copy of your child’s grade book entries in an email.

 3.) Looking at the gradebook for one class, determine whether you see

         1.) A bunch of 0’s or other indications of missing work

         2.) Low scores on all or most of the assignments

         3.) Low scores primarily on quizzes and tests


4.) Consider speaking with your child’s teacher about why their grade in the class is low, especially if you’re having trouble interpreting the grade book.

 5.) Ask your child about their experience in each of their classes. See if they can give you some insight into what might be working for them in some classrooms and not working in others.

If what you determine is that your child is having  a specific difficulty with a particular subject, reaching out to a subject-specific tutor for weekly or bi-weekly sessions is likely to be fruitful. 

But, if it’s hard to tell what exactly the issue is, or if the challenges appear to be broad-ranging or multi-faceted, consider more holistic support.

We went through this process for Sam. It turned out that Sam didn’t have any missing work, but she was sleeping through every Calculus class and her math anxiety left her so intimidated that she could not ask questions or absorb any information her tutor tried to give her. On top of all of that, Sam’s phone was her only coping mechanism to deal with all of the school stress she was feeling, so while she knew that she shouldn’t be staying up so late, she couldn’t get herself to start her school work until all of her friends went to bed every night.

Now we understood the problem, which meant that Sam’s mom could ask the last question:

What’s the plan?

Anyone you hire to help your child succeed in school should be able to outline their plan to support your child specifically before you hire them.

Let’s say you determine that your child needs a subject-specific tutor (like a math or science tutor) to help them better learn specific material. In that case, the tutor should be able to tell you how they plan to use the session time to remediate and review concepts from your child’s class.

Let’s say instead you determine that your child needs more holistic support from an educational therapist or academic coach. Anyone you’re considering hiring should be able to show you the starting points on the roadmap they will follow to help your child meet their goals.

At School Without Suffering, we do this for every prospective client during a complimentary 30-minute Student Success Roadmapping Session.

To create each child’s custom Roadmap, we ask their parents/caregivers questions to understand the child’s experience in school and learn what their concerns and goals are for the child.

We analyze their academic history and then lay out the first specific steps the child needs to take to succeed in school, given their unique learning needs. Then we answer questions about exactly how we would support the student to take these steps should the parents/caregivers choose to enroll them in The Student Membership.

We started Sam in our Intensive Membership to help her establish healthy ways to manage her stress and anxiety quickly while supporting her to get her homework done at a reasonable time each day and get to bed on time.

Sam worked hard. She wanted healthier habits as much as her mom wanted them for her. After three weeks, Sam’s mom got this email from the Calculus teacher: “Sam’s participation in class improved dramatically last week. She even began approaching me with questions. Please encourage her to keep this up and she will continue to improve.”

And she did! Sam ended the semester with a passing grade in Calculus and A’s in every other class. More importantly, she ended the semester with confidence, joy, and excitement not only about what she could accomplish in school moving forward, but about the personal interests she now saw that she had the time and energy to pursue.

When Sam’s mom first saw there was a problem, she did what most parents do: Take away the phone and hire tutors. See a problem, solve a problem. It makes complete sense, so it lead to a lot of distress when it didn’t work. But with the three questions we talked about on this episode, we were able to get to the root cause of the issue and set Sam up for success.

When your child is struggling with school and you’re running into walls trying to help them, it can feel like the world is crumbling. It’s easy to beat yourself up for not having all the answers. But there are so many things that you can’t possibly be expected to know. And then even when you do know, your teen or tween might not listen due to the very fact that you are their parent! 

You now know a lot more about school stress and anxiety than the average parent does. And, one of the most important things to know is when and how to ask for help. That can be the hardest part, and it’s what our final episode of the season is all about.