An Educator's Survival Guide for Dealing with Difficult Parents

Dealing with Difficult Parents

Whether you’ve been teaching for just a few weeks or several years, you’ve probably already seen or heard about the monster mothers or fuming fathers. Though there are many perks of being a teacher, you begin to realize that difficult parents kind of come with the teaching territory.

But you don’t have to shy away from these difficult scenarios. Just as you teach your little ones, you know the best way to face your fears is to meet them head on. In order to do so, you’re looking to educate yourself on the best methods of dealing with difficult parents.

Instead of scouring the Internet for little tidbits of advice, start here. We polled experts and educators to get their advice on how to deal with difficult parents. You can sleep soundly at night knowing you’re well-prepared for negative-Nancy and over-protective-Pete.

How to deal with difficult parents

This guide is broken up into two sections. First, experienced teacher and education experts will help you understand how to avoid conflicts with parents altogether by setting yourself up for relational success. Then, we’ll share ways to communicate with and diffuse the difficult parents that still manage to pop up throughout your career.

Curbing conflicts before they begin

Why wait until things get complicated? There are several strategies you can employ at the start of the schoolyear that could help set the stage for a semester of problem-free parents.

1. Establish expectations up front

This is one of the best way to avoid conflict from the get-go, according to Joyce Wong, director of Mill Creek Academy. “When the communication is clear as to what the parent will anticipate with each part of your program, this will alleviate the anxiety of the unknown,” she explains.

Wong goes on to say that a timeline or syllabus of what you will cover in the semester will help parents know what they can expect. Keeping parents in the loop from day one will show them you care and want them to be involved in their child’s education.

2. Invite them into your classroom

This doesn’t necessarily mean physically inviting a parent in to observe (though that might be beneficial for a potential difficult parent), but rather giving parents ways to connect with what you’re doing on a weekly basis.

“I have seen great teachers using Evernote and creating portfolios for the children to show parents via the Internet,” says Ethan Gregory, school counselor and parent educator. “Use your phone to take videos and photos and post them to the class Google group or whatever tool you might have at your future school.” Taking advantage of technology to keep parents posted will help them feel more included and in the loop.

3. Nurture your partnership with parents

Make it your focus to foster relationships with parents, suggests elementary school teacher Dianne Robinson. She recommends the book “Unmistakable Impact" by Jim Knight for tools and insights on how to hone your skills in this area.

Second-grade teacher Lucy Rofshus suggests attempting to create at least three positive interactions with parents before any sort of negative one occurs. She starts off the year by trying to introduce herself to each parent and writing them a card saying how much she enjoys having their child in class. You’d be surprised how a positive first impression can help deter difficult situations down the road.

Diffusing difficult situations when they strike

No matter how good your intentions are, there still might be a parent or two in your career that show themselves to be harder to handle. Here are some expert tips for when you encounter a pesky problem.

1. Listen first

“When the difficult parent approaches you with the issues, always let them speak first,” Wong advises. She recommends resisting the urge to interrupt even if you know they have misconstrued information. Giving them the opportunity to voice all of their concerns before responding will help them to feel heard and not hushed.

2. Acknowledge their concerns

After listening, Wong believes it’s vital to acknowledge the parent’s concerns before offering your suggestions. Even if you feel their concerns are ill-founded, this is still an essential step. It shows you have been actively listening and puts you and the parent on the same side again.

3. Avoid using email

“When you deal with difficult parents the less you can do through email the better,” Lucy says. So much can be lost in translation when conversing electronically. Face-to-face interaction is ideal, but even a phone call is a better option so both parties can be invested in the conversation simultaneously.

4. Don’t be judgmental

It can be tempting to blame a child’s problems on the parent or even avoid or judge a difficult parent. But this is an ideal response for your well-being or your career, according to Robinson.

“Remember that blaming is never productive,” Robinson says. “Parents do the best they can with what they know.  Loving, valuing and avoiding judgement goes a long way!”

5. Keep lines of communication open

“Confirm to the parent that you will continue to observe the child and should anything arise, you will be in contact with them,” Wong suggests.

After one difficult interaction with a parent, your first instinct might be to avoid them at all costs. But this is not the best response and may only lead to further difficulties down the road. Be conscious about keeping those lines of communication open.

Stay teacher-savvy

Now that you have some tried and true strategies up your sleeves for dealing with difficult parents, you should feel confident in handling whatever comes your way. Just remember that you have the same goals as they do – to help educate and empower their developing children.

As you’re probably aware, sometimes parents seem like a piece of cake compared to corralling crazy kiddos. Now that you know how to handle the adults, check out some advice for handling the rest of your classroom in this article: 10 Proven Classroom Management Tips for Preschool Teachers.


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Megan Ruesink

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.

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