Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“Whether you have been the target of aggressive behavior or the aggressor, this event does not define you. Every day brings a new opportunity to start again.” – Jessica Speer
“The aggressive person fights. The passive one runs away. But the assertive person stands ground, assesses the situation, adapts, and acts with purpose and passion. Be that person.” – Charles F Glassman
As a teacher, you have dealt with difficult students before. And you have probably come up with some strategies on how to deal with such students. But what if you have to deal with difficult parents? First of all, what do I mean by saying “difficult parents”? What I mean is that some parents may be very difficult to communicate with. And indeed, some of them may not treat the teacher nicely. It does not mean, however, that parents are trying to hurt the teacher intentionally. They are just doing so because they think that this will help them promote their children’s interests. And often such hyper-protection and hyper-concern lead parents to scrutinize teachers, put enormous pressure on them and even bully sometimes.
In this short article, we are going to give you some useful advice on how to deal with parents that may be giving you a hard time.
Show Empathy and Listen
Yes, it may be difficult to empathize with people who are trying to boss you around, but think about it this way: their dismissive and demanding manner of talking to you actually probably has nothing to do with you at all. And their attitudes may be shaped by entirely different factors such as problems at home, financial concerns, problems at work, and the resulting stress.
Some difficult parents may also have had negative experiences during their being as students at school, which may have shaped their attitude to their child’s teacher. Of course, all the aforementioned things are outside your control and it may seem that there is little you can do to deal with such pressure. But if you just listen to what they say, nod silently, and show that you care – this will already be an effective response to their negativity. What is more, listening to what difficult parents say may help you understand what triggers their unhappiness and their hyper-protective attitudes. And once you know what you can take it from there.
Demonstrating to the parent that you are listening carefully to them can be done in many other ways. For example, you can make notes writing down the key things that the parent has communicated to you. Not only will it help you memorize the relevant information for an effective resolution of the problem – it will also show the parent that you are listening and caring. Even if the parent is very angry, they will calm down seeing that you are interested in helping them. After the meeting, send the parent an email with a quick summary of their concerns, including the administration of the school in the email too.
Also, you can use some specific words to make parents less aggressive and make them feel less nervous. For example, you can say something like – “I am really sorry that this happened”. This phrase will demonstrate to your interlocutor that you have listened to them and that you care about what they say. This will serve as a good basis for the further development of rapport between you and them. Maybe you will even discover that all the parent wants is just a shoulder to cry on.
Avoid Mirroring the Emotions of An Aggressive Parent
True, some parents may be overly aggressive and their attitude can be quite confrontational. And when you are confronted by someone like that, it may be tempting to simply mirror this behavior. But no matter what you do – try to avoid responding to an angry parent in a similar way. The best thing to do in such situations is simply to stay calm. Because the person who stays calm always has the upper hand – no matter what.
Instead of mirroring difficult parents’ aggressive behavior, try to set a pattern of behaviour that they will feel compelled to mirror. So instead of raising your voice, lower your voice. When someone is trying to lower their voice in a heated debate or conversation, the other party will inevitably realize that they may be speaking loudly and lower their voice too.
Talking to people who spew negativity (even if they have nothing personal against you) may be truly detrimental to one’s psychological well-being. So, taking good care of yourself and your mental health is essential. Even though it may be difficult – try not to bring this stress home or take it out on your friends, partner or family. Remember, that not all parents are like that and that dealing with an upset and aggressive parent is just one small aspect of your job. If you feel that you are still struggling with lingering stress, try meditating or doing something that will take your mind off things. Teaching can be challenging sometimes and one of the challenges is that you must deal with different personalities – students, their parents as well as the school management. Also, remember that your colleagues will always be there for you, and talking to them can help. They surely have some practical advice that you can also use when dealing with difficult parents. Most importantly, if you feel that you have been negatively affected by the conversation with one of the parents, do not keep your frustration in your head. Talk to someone – fellow teachers will be the best people to turn to.
Take the Initiative
It is wise to try and build an effective relationship with a parent before a difficult situation presents itself. In our Shiminly articles we have discussed why it is important to build a professional relationship with students’ parents and how it can help you in your classroom management. If you know that some parents have a reputation for being difficult to deal with, rather than waiting for a difficult situation to arise, talk to them and demonstrate to them that you are extremely interested in the success and progress of their child. Of course, such an approach is not a panacea to all potentially difficult parents, but it is certainly something that may provide a positive basis for a mutually beneficial relationship between you and the parent.
Have All Relevant Data Handy
No matter what the parent’s concern is, whether it’s their child’s academic performance or behavioral issues, make sure that you have all the evidence to present to parents. Keeping records and skillfully using them is not only demonstrating to the parent that you are handling school matters professionally, but it will also show them that you genuinely care about their child and that the possibility of an error on your part is minimal.
Truth be told, difficult parents are the way they are simply because they are trying to make sure that their children are getting the most out of their school. Remember that parents’ negativity towards you or the school may not necessarily be personal. Indeed, so many things are happening in our lives that can potentially shape our emotions. So one of the keys to dealing with difficult parents is simply keeping in mind that it has nothing to do with you.
Also, if you start taking everything personally, it will be very difficult for you to continue communicating with them. It will be also easy for you to get upset and lose your temper too. Remember as well, that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the conversation with parents can still go in an undesirable direction. If you see that, indeed, the conversation is not going anyway it is a good idea to suggest scheduling a meeting for a different day. Doing so is especially appropriate if you see that the parent is not even trying to be constructive and instead is trying to insult you and accuse you of something. In such cases rescheduling is the only option.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese and he possesses first-hand knowledge about the issues that people face when moving to other countries and adjusting to a new culture.