Tuesday, February 16, 2016

11 Positive Tips for Dealing with Difficult Parents

It's often the most dreaded part of a teacher's job—dealing with difficult parents. When you have "that parent" it's so easy to just avoid picking up the phone to make a call home. It doesn't seem worth it. Death and public speaking are counted among people's greatest fears. Many educators would add calling an angry parent to the list.

It's especially true for those new to the profession, even though I think all teachers struggle with this to an extent. Most people don't enjoy dealing with negative emotions or unreasonable expectations. But avoiding the problem won't make it go away.

But the right approach can make working with any parent a more positive experience. And if you win the parents' support, it will make your job so much easier and help the child be more successful. Here are 11 ideas for making parent interactions more productive.

1. Be Proactive

Don't wait until there is a problem before you start to build a relationship with parents. Reach out to them and let them know that you are committed to helping their child succeed. If certain parents are known to be critical or unreasonable, communicate early and often to prevent misunderstandings and build some positive feelings. Rik Rowe has been a leader in promoting #GoodCallsHome on Twitter. The idea is to make regular phone calls to share good news with parents. Then if there is a problem, it won't be the first time you've called.

2. Find Common Ground

When having a difficult conversation with a parent, do everything you can to establish shared purpose. Parents want their kids to be successful and so do you. Focus on how the problem is impacting their child, not how it's impacting you, the classroom, or other students. While those are all important areas of concern for you, parents tend to focus on the success of their child. Let the parents know you want to work with them to address the issue.

3. Focus on the Positive

Every kid has positive qualities that need to be recognized. It's important to focus on these first in communicating with parents. It takes several positive comments to overcome one negative one. It's also important to focus on communicating positive intentions. Work together with the parent to establish some improvement goals that will benefit the student.

4. Listen

When difficult conversations turn to damaging conversations, it's usually because the school is more interested in being right than trying to understand the perspective of the parent. LISTEN. Don't be quick to judge. Be curious. What is eliciting this idea or emotion from the parent? Show you are listening by paraphrasing what the parent is saying before you add something new. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand.

5. Show How Much You Care

When parents know how much you care about their child, it builds trust and makes the teacher and parent relationship stronger. You can show how much you care by getting to know your students, taking an interest in their activities and hobbies, and making extra efforts to help them. Parents know you care when they feel you completely, and unconditionally accept their child and want what's best for him or her.

6. Don't Lose Your Empathy

Even when parents are angry, demanding, and unreasonable, commit to keep your mindset in a place of empathy. Don't take the negative emotion personal. It's not about you. Even if it is, it's not helpful to take it personally. Strong emotions are often elicited because parents want the best for their kids. Sometimes, the parents are dealing with other trauma or hardship and the frustrations of life get released on you. Not fun. But stay with empathy. It's tough to be a parent, especially when life is painful and filled with hardship.

7. Stay Firm

Just because you start and end with empathy doesn't mean you should give in to whatever demands the parent has. Ultimately, you have to make decisions based on your professional experience and what's best for the child. Although parent input is a must, the final decision rests with you. So be firm about what options will work and don't offer something that isn't a wise choice.

8. It's Okay to Negotiate

Although you must be firm on some decisions, it's also okay to negotiate with parents. Some give and take is necessary to maintain a spirit of cooperation. If you turn down every request a parent has they will view you as rigid and uncaring. In education, our end users are the students and parents. We should do everything within reason to ensure they are satisfied and having a positive experience.

9. Ask for Support

One of the best things you can do is share your parent struggles with your principal or a colleague. The can provide support and encouragement to you. And, they may have information to add to the mix to help you understand how to proceed in a situation.

10. Don't Get Backed Into a Corner

It's always best to keep multiple options available and not get backed into a corner. Instead of making promises you may not be able to keep, take a tentative stance that will allow for some wiggle room if you need it. It's always best to underpromise and overdeliver. 

Probably the quickest way to get cornered is to say or do something that is disrespectful to the parent or child. Clearly, it's not a good idea to ever act unprofessionally. But it happens. And as soon as the teacher (or principal) has made this mistake, that issue will take center stage over any of the issues that need to be addressed with the student.

11. Set Boundaries

Most parents respect boundaries because they are kind and considerate. But difficult parents can plow through without any concern for you, your classroom, or good manners. When boundaries are crossed, it's important to politely, but directly establish expectations. If you clarify boundaries and still don't get cooperation, you should involve your principal.

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