Professional Versus Personal Relationships


Before we look at the differences between personal and professional relationships it’s important to know where they are both similar and what is the core component of all relationships.

Trust. without trust, no learning can take place. Parents have to trust tutors, children have to trust tutors, organisations have to trust the tutor who sees a child on their behalf. Also, the tutor has to trust the organisation. If the tutor doesn’t trust their line manager or the person supervising them, they can stop asking for help and stop communicating. This will result in the child being isolated from an organisation and the additional support it can offer. If a parent doesn’t trust a tutor, that lack of trust – if the tuition continues – will interfere with the learning. Too much time would be spent on reassuring the parents. If a child doesn’t trust a tutor, they will not be honest and open about the things that they struggle with. The trust children give to tutors goes hand in hand with safety. No child can learn unless they feel safe.

How can we gain trust?

  • Being consistent
  • Doing all the things we say will do
  • Never speaking badly about anyone
  • Never running an organisation down
  • Not splitting or playing off one against the other
  • Being able to say I don’t know
  • Being honest with yourself about the skills you have
  • Being open in communication
  • Being congruent


Showing up. In all relationships, we need to show up. It’s more than just physically turning up for sessions. It’s being present, it’s having an interest in the child’s learning. It’s understanding the parent’s worry. It’s understanding any difficulties that happened before you met the child. It’s about taking on that child and asking yourself continually, what can I do within the boundaries of my work to help that child learn?

When we show up, we show up as whole people. Our thoughts our feelings and our emotions. We connect in a relationship and we let people know we have their best interests at heart.

Co-created space. Co-created space is where it’s not all about you, it’s not all about the other it’s about both the tutor and the child working together to help that child learn and feel more at home in academics.

It goes back to power and it’s about respect. When you have unconditional positive regard for the child you are working with, you can see them for who they are and you allow them to exist in that space for who they are: Their thoughts, feelings and ideas. You value that child. You share your own professional thoughts feelings and ideas in a way that allows the child the same space. Thus, the tutoring becomes co-created between two people working in a session. The child’s educational needs are no longer clouded by anyone’s expectations.

This co-created relationship also extends to the communication with the organisation you belong to, it becomes a co-created learning environment. It is not all about one person. It is about every person working together for a common cause and that is children’s education.

Professional boundaries that are different from personal relationships?

We must always remember we are at work; we are being employed and we have taken on the role to educate children. These children are not your children, your family members or your friend’s children. The parents are not your friends or your family. Parents are bringing their children to you for your skills, you are there for their benefit. They are not there for yours. This is not an equal relationship.

It is important to always know where your job starts and where your job ends. So, let’s look at some places where boundary crosses can happen.

Gift giving

For some parents, they can feel guilty that they are having a tutor. This guilt can stem from feeling they do not have enough time, or that they have done something wrong which is why their child needs extra help. This guilt can also motivate some parents to give gifts, or not ask questions that they really want to. The other side is that parents can feel so appreciative that they want to give gifts. If you are accepting a gift that seems disproportionate or out of the context of normal holiday gift-giving periods, what is the message you are telling that parent? Yes, I am worth all of this because you have failed could be one of them.

Simple Christmas gifts that a parent might give a classroom teacher, school nurse or another professional that has no more than £5 in value, is a token of appreciation. Rejecting that gift can be hurtful and it would not be encouraged. However, if the gift is above the value of £5 then you need to report back to your line manager, and it needs to be discussed.

Gifts from children, other than typical child drawings or other craft related, need to be reported every single time and your line manager told.

Disclosing of personal information. This can be a tricky one. Some children respond better when they know something about the adult that is sat next to them, they do not respond well to the blank slate approach. Some disclosure can, in some cases, be helpful. However, personal disclosure about problems concerning your deeper issues about anything that can cause anxiety within the child should be discouraged at all times.

For example, you see a child is nervous in your first session, so wanting to reassure the child and normalise these feelings, you say to that child. “I know you’re nervous. Don’t worry, I used to be nervous all the time when I met people for the first time too.”

Whilst it may appear in the first glance that you are connecting to the child; by showing them you understand through disclosing your past issues, you’ve now taken away any chance for that child to think about their own nervousness in relation to you or the tuition. You may have told them that there is nothing to worry about you got over it, so they will get over it and you might have implied – let’s move on, without even meaning to. Additionally, you’ve filled up the tutoring space with your own story, before the child has offered any part of theirs.

Personal disclosure is a tool only to be used when you have a good solid relationship, that’s based on the child’s needs and the child being seen without them having to see parts of you first.

Children will pick up enough of you to get a sense of who you are, by how you show up in the tutoring relationship. What you physically look like, your mannerisms, your warmth, how you show your robustness, and how you can see that child’s struggles and the connections you make. Who you are in the relationship and how you relate to that child will tell that child everything they need to know about you without needing to know any personal information at all. Too much personal information too soon, or even at all, takes away the ability for the child to figure you out.

Personal disclosure to parents can feel like it builds a relationship, it does not. It complicates it, and it takes away room for their parents to talk about themselves and their own worries. It does not mean you can’t be warm and open. You can answer questions if asked. Just don’t give information for the sake of it or trying to force others to know about you.

Whilst it may seem it’s an equal relationship, it is not because you are a paid professional in that relationship. You will be having supervision in which the child and their learning will be discussed. Supervision looks deeper beyond learning as we examine the child in the context. You cannot get emotionally involved in deeper relationships with parents without complicating your tutoring relationship and causing damage. This damage may not show up initially, but it will always show up in the long term.

What is the golden rule?

The golden rule to a lot of issues between personal and professional relationships is to ask yourself who is this for? If you feel the need to tell a parent or child how busy you are, how tired you are, how many students you see, things in your personal world, how you did in your education, how you found your own years at school, how you felt, your emotional issues and so on.. who is it for? Is it for the good of the child, is it building rapport, or is it for the good of the parent, does it aid the tuition or does it give you an emotional need somehow? Are you eliciting appreciation, validation, gratitude, expertise, sympathy or playing the victim. How are you trying to be viewed by what you say? Every single sentence we say and how we say them in relationships has a cost-benefit to the other person. You should not be trying to create any type of cost in what you do and say. Instead, the parent and the child should be receiving benefit from you. Everything you do and say should be for the sole reason of it being in the best interests for the child and the family they belong to.

Remember to ask yourself, who was that for, me or them?

The last boundary to discuss in this section is the act of encouraging learning dependence in students and avoiding rescue fantasies. In other training courses, we will look more deeply at how rescue fantasies come about. However, things to be aware of are our feelings of:  I’m the only one that understands these people, it’s only me that can help this child, I am the first person who the family have spoken to and opened up to, so it is only me that can help this child learn. I am the only person who should tutor this child.  This child will only speak to me and nobody else. I’m the only one that could help this child and I understand their educational needs better than anyone, they are my student.

These ideas, thoughts and feelings can sometimes stem from a rescue fantasy of being needed and not wanting anybody else to be involved. It can also happen by cutting the parent out of the tutoring relationship or cutting your line manager and/or organisation out of the tutoring relationship. All tutor and child relationships that become an isolated pair (dyad) are detrimental to the child, as they are not about the child’s need, they become all about what’s been triggered or inactivated within the tutor. It is always important to keep open the lines of communication within supervision/managers and want to speak to learning and development managers about all aspects of the tutoring.

The take-home message in this section is if everything you say to a child or to a client or a parent you can honestly say afterwards, it was solely for their benefit and not for yours, then you are acting professionally.

It is always important to reflect and honestly ask yourself am I being professional.