How to Deal with Difficult Parents
There’s always one isn’t there! There is always one child in your class whose parent you dread coming face to face with. Unfortunately, this is part and parcel of the job. More often than not, a tricky parent’s nagging or abrasive nature comes from love and wanting the best for their child, as opposed to being difficult just for the sake of it. This is understandable, when you are the custodian of somebody’s child for any length of time you should expect some scrutiny. However, scrutiny is one thing, unreasonable behaviour is another.
Whether the parent is approaching you with a concern, or you are approaching them with concerns of your own, pitching a successful interaction requires you to tread carefully. In order to help you to communicate and negotiate usefully, try to keep these guidelines in mind.
Build a Relationship
It’s all about trust. If a ‘tricky’ parent likes you, thinks that you are interested in the success and wellbeing of their child and good at your job, then they are far less likely to fly off the handle, or jump to conclusions. This is actually pretty easy. Unless the child in question is a nightmare all the time, which is unlikely, then there will be occasions on which you can praise them. All it takes is the occasional e-mail, home book message, or post-it note to the parent, telling them about something awesome their child did. This help them to associate you with positive news, so negative interactions with you become more of an anomaly. This also establishes a clear model for how you communicate with each other… if the model is positive, then even tricky conversations will carry less sting. Here are a few more handy tips about how to gain trust with others: 6 Smart Techniques to Win Your Prospects Trust, Fast
The illusion of ‘authority’, whether you feel you have it or not, is all in about confidence. If you feel that your authority is being infringed upon, try this simple trick to reassert your status. It is as easy as looking them directly in the eye when they are talking. Next time you speak with someone, anyone, notice how much you actually look them in the eye. You will notice that we don’t generally do this in casual conversation. This direct gaze does a few things; it lets the speaker know that you are listening intently to them and are interested in their plight, you are showing them respect by giving them your full attention, and looking someone directly in the eye indicates that you are confident and self-assured.
This can be really hard to do if a parent is yelling in your face. What you must always remember is that, almost all of the time, the attack is not personal. Very often a parent is upset or angry and is just looking for someone to lay the blame on, and if you’re are the nearest person, sorry, you are the target. Yelling back is not only unprofessional, it also achieves absolutely nothing. The best thing for you to do is keep your cool, keep a cap on any reactionary instincts you might have, and let them shout it out until you can calm the situation. Here are a few extra tips on how to diffuse arguments: 8 Ways to De-Escalate Heated Arguments
By empathising with the other party, by showing them you acknowledge and understand their issue, you are indicating to them that you are on their side. Simply by saying something along the lines of “that is awful, I am sorry that happened”, you can calm a situation considerably. It gives the parent an ally as opposed to an opponent, and a hope that you will help them to find a solution.
If you have genuinely made a mistake, admit it and accept it. Denial or excuses only add to the animosity they may be feeling towards you. So, if you have done something wrong, apologise and assure them that the issue will be dealt with. It might feel a bit rubbish, but teachers are only human, and all humans make mistakes. With the amount of pressure there is on you to perform, just accept that you will make mistakes no matter how hard you work. Roll with the punches.
Refer to Fact
Defensive parents often deny instances of bad behaviour from their children regardless of prior offences. “I can’t believe they did that” or “they never behave like that at home” are phrases you will definitely have heard more than once. In the event of this kind of denial, you might do well to remind them of previous incidents. It is important not to be vague; “they sometimes do this” or “we have had this before” are not concrete enough. You must provide them with specific instances of which they are, hopefully, already aware. If you do not have any kind of behavioural ‘filing system’, you might wish to implement one. This helps in the event of repeated denials from parents; a physical, hard copy representation of incidents of bad behaviour serve you well when trying to illustrate a behavioural pattern.
Stand Your Ground
You are the professional, you are the expert, and you know that everything you do, you do for the good of the children. Remember this. If you know you are in the right in a situation of conflict, do not deflect, deviate, bend the truth or amend your attitude just to please the parent or to diffuse the altercation. This will not solve the problem and could lead to ongoing issues. It also weakens your authority, and parents generally react better to teachers who stand their ground, are direct in taking on issues and who are confident.
It seems obvious, perhaps. But just ‘being nice’ is one of the best ways to not only clam a situation, but to stop you from boiling over yourself. Have you ever seen the confused face of an angry person struggling to work out why the rival in their argument is being so nice? It is very hard to remain angry at a nice person for long. Also, parents do talk. Get a reputation for being kind and a pleasure to communicate with and you will find that most parents will approach you with this expectation in mind.