How to Handle Shut Down

When students shut down, it’s difficult for everyone involved – the parent, teacher, tutor, and student themselves. Often, shut down is triggered by feelings of overwhelm and shame, and it can be hard to help students re-engage. It’s important to note: most of the time, shut down is NOT willful, the student just does not know how to get “unstuck.” In today’s blog, we will walk you through how we help students feel empowered and re-focused after a shut down.


We often observe students shutting down when they are working on subjects they are struggling in. Let’s say a student really struggles with math. She’s been working with her tutor on other subjects in an in-person, 1-on-1 setting and has been making steady progress throughout the session. However, once she starts working on math, she completely freezes and refuses to move forward; shut down is hard to come back from and needs to be processed. What should the tutor do? First, we NEVER force a student to do something they do not want to do. Next, we encourage tutors to brainstorm activities with the student that may help them feel better and get unstuck. Some potential activities include playing a game, talking about something the student is interested in, or going for a walk.

If the student is not in a place to brainstorm activities, our tutors will often just sit there with them. Meeting a student where they are helps build trust, and trust is crucial when navigating work that triggers overwhelm and shame. However, once the initial shut down is worked through, we do not simply move on without strategizing ways to assist the student in the future. We ask ourselves, “How are we going to help this student through math in the future?”

How to Move Forward in a Constructive Way

Some ways we often help make intimidating subjects more fun for students are incorporating games, nature, multi-sensory activities, and food. For math, this could look like playing tic tac toe with fractions, drawing math problems on the sidewalk in chalk, or sharing a snack with the student’s tutor.

Most importantly? Everyone gets a clean slate each day. Shut down can feel anxiety provoking on everyone’s part, but it does not have to be that way. Remember, shut down comes from feelings of overwhelm, frustration, and shame. It’s important to take a step back, look at how things are being taught, and pivot accordingly.

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About Evelyn Wright

Evelyn Wright is the Director of Wright Academics, a tutoring business created to target kids’ specific needs. Her passion is helping students and families succeed so that they achieve their maximum potential in and out of the classroom.

With over 25 years of experience working with children and their families in public and private schools, as well as in private practice, Evelyn’s focus is understanding the individual’s learning profile, guiding families of children with learning differences and matching students to the tutor or coach that best fits the student. She believes in not only matching educational needs to the right tutor’s skills, but matching a student to the tutor with the right personality.