How To Work With Difficult Parents

Communicating with parents can be a dream but it can also be a HUGE nightmare for teachers. Yes, I said it. We’ve all met those parents who we just don’t know how to deal with – those names you dread seeing on your parents evening schedule. I’ve found dealing with difficult parents to be one of the toughest parts of the job.

I’m by no means an expert, but I have encountered parents who I never thought would crack smile during parents evening or recognize the effort being put in to their child. Stepping back and practicing the below has really made a difference in my approach.

1)     Understand their point of view

This takes time but it’s the most important part of developing good relationships with parents. When faced with a difficult parent, my first instinct was to avoid interacting with them but, similar to a challenging student, they have underlying motivations for their behaviour. Be clear and firm with your boundaries but also try to show empathy. Seek to understand them, and find out the underlying issue- understanding their concerns, worries, and fears helps you to see them as another human.

2)     Make positive phone calls home

I often had difficult relationships with parents of students who I had to sanction often. Of course you should always maintain high expectations of student effort and behaviour but try to end those difficult phone calls on a hopeful, positive note. Look for the things this student does right or, better yet, try to find something specific to praise and call the difficult parent and tell them about it! Avoid always being the bearer of bad news. Chances are they hear a lot of it. With one student after a difficult phone call I agreed to call back over the next 2 weeks to give feedback on how the student is using positive behaviour strategies we discussed.

3)     Stand your ground

In contrast to my last point, do not let the parent disrespect you. You’re all on the same team! Model clear, polite, civil communication and reiterate why you have made decisions. Do make an effort to build a relationship but don’t allow phone calls to overrun – if it helps have a script or bullet points of what you want to say so you don’t get distracted. If a parent is rude or abusive always tell your line manager or a more senior member of staff. When a parent was rude to me I involved my head of department.

4)     Ask for help

If you are struggling with a parent, you’re probably not alone. Ask other teachers who teach their child, what do they do. Can you work together to find out what the parent wants? Has anyone else found anything that worked well? If not, work together to find out what does work.

5)     Be in the right frame of mind

Refrain from calling a parent after a difficult exchange with their child or straight after a long and straining day. Instead, take a second for yourself, collect your thoughts, grab a cup of tea and a glass of water. It might help to make a positive phone call home before calling a difficult parent. Being in a positive mindset will be a big help.

It’s important to remember it’s not about you, personally. Parents are passionate about their children and rightfully so! If you take a step back and seek to understand them, ask your trusted colleagues for support, and stay in the right frame of mind you might be surprised when a thorn in your side quickly becomes your biggest ally and before long positive relationships will be formed between you and your students’ families.

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