I do some in-home tutoring, and this sometimes means working in a family space. However, as a tutor, I also have to create a professional setting that allows the kid to focus and recognize they're working, not just hanging out at their dining room table.

Most parents get that and allow the space to be created, e.g. by chilling in the next room or working silently. But others will walk through with young siblings (very distracting!), put on a loud movie, come in and tousle the kid's hair, or urge them to do something that I don't particularly need but they see as the basics of hospitality: "How can you not have gotten your tutor a glass of water?" and so on. In one case, a parent has brought a kid to tears with scolding during a lesson. We lost a lot of time recovering from the disruption.

I have a few years of experience tutoring now, but I'm still not great at asserting the professional boundaries of a lesson. It's hard to overrule the fact that it's their house, their kid, and their money. Plus I'm young, being in my mid-twenties. (To be clear, these are objections I consider, not that I've been told. I rarely broach the subject.)

How can I communicate that despite those things, I need to set the ground rules?

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    Are you providing them with rules as soon as you come in? E.g. when the appointment for the first tutoring is made? Do these parents already know there's rules or not?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 17:40
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    @Tinkeringbell Good question... No, not really. My current students are almost all long-term ones I started with before I realized I can't take the rules for granted.
    – Euchris
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 18:06

1 Answer 1


Tinkeringbell's question is instructive. The best way to create a professional space is to set rules at the outset. Most people will accept this as an appropriate part of the process and respect them, either in whole or at least substantially. It will be harder to modify current circumstances.

So first, delineate what rules you think should be in place. And explain those to the parents (who are presumably paying for the tutoring?) at the outset for new students. Even if the parents aren't paying & it's a matter of students living at home, but paying out of their own pocket for tutoring - you should still try to make polite, but firm requests up front to enlist their co-operation in maintaining a more effective tutoring environment.

For existing clients, there is no magic formula for asking parents for their help in improving the study space. The hardest part is broaching the subject at all, so pick a time and just discuss the issue with the parents.

You might want to reinforce the most basic ground rules by printing a simple sheet about your tutoring. Nothing complicated or with a lot of detailed rules. Just some general information about your tutoring and include a few statements to the effect that effective tutoring needs to have space set aside to teach and study with a minimum of interruptions and noise.

Changing the ground rules on the fly will depend a lot on the parent's not contradicting or undermining your efforts to set boundaries, so try to get them on side beforehand and navigate the minefields with as much tact and patience as you can.

How much existing clients will buy into this will vary. It probably won't be as effective as setting rules at the outset would have been. But it's likely to improve the existing environment to some degree. But you can ask Brian to play with you over by the playhouse & Jane can answer your questions when she's done.*

In addition you might consider asking if there is an alternate room; study, den, spare bedroom, etc where you might be away from most of the noise and most interruptions.

  • 4
    Thanks. I love the sheet idea. I think for existing clients I'll wait for another problematic incident and then, after the lesson, take a minute to discuss what happened, rather than bring it up now out of the blue. Asking for another room is something I've tried once or twice. Most recently it resulted in working in a tiny closet half-full of luggage... still better than in the middle of family traffic, though.
    – Euchris
    Commented Feb 4, 2018 at 4:21
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    Be aware that with multiple kids this family traffic often cannot be fully avoided, so I would not focus on this problem if it only occurs infrequently.
    – skymningen
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 8:57
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    It might be better to give the sheet to all parents, explain you are giving it to all parents, that is how classes my kids go to do stuff.
    – WendyG
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 11:28

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