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How to Work with Difficult Parents

Learn how to work with difficult parents from education consultant Grace Dearborn in this Howcast video.


How to work with difficult or angry parents? The first thing to remember is that we're on the same side. The parents just want what's best for their child. We want what's best for their child. Sometimes we don't agree on how to get there or there's just been a miscommunication between us and the parents, or no communication. So the best place to start is assuming the best about the parents, that whatever they might be saying, their aggression, their anger, their frustration with you is really just coming from a place of "I want my student to do well or my child to do well and they're not. I don't know what to do about it and I don't want to be the source of the problem so I'm going to blame you." And we can all relate to that. And that will soften if we can assume that. If we can assume the best about the parent, it can soften the way that we deal with them.

So the parents might be saying, "Why are you doing this?" Or, "You can't do this." I like to start by saying, "I hear how upset you are and I feel how frustrating this is for you and I can totally understand that, but what I'm choosing to do in the classroom is in the best interest of you son or daughter." Everything I do is always in their best interest and you might not agree with the way I'm going about it and we can have a conversation about that, and if you have a better idea how I can go about dealing with their disruption or dealing with whatever the issue is, and it's better than what I've come up with, I will definitely adopt it as the way that I deal with them in the future. But we need to have a conversation and we need to get on the same page about what is happening with your student.

Oftentimes, I find that when parents are angry at me or they're coming at me aggressively, it's because the student has told them something out of context or has exaggerated something in some way and they're taking their child word for it and that's fine, and they just needed to have that cleared up for them. But if their anger comes at me and I get all defensive, then it's hard for me to explain to them in a rational way the context in which the thing occurred and why I handled it the way I did. In the end, just accept that anger is part of an emotional process that goes on between parents and teachers and kids but we're all on the same side and we can get there if we can help the parent see that we're also on their side. We also want what's best for their child and everything we're doing is trying to create that. Then we can work together to help the child.

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