Throughout your career as a teacher, you will deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of parents. Most will be perfectly lovely—friendly, supportive, and involved—but a handful will not. Occasionally you will encounter a parent who is challenging, difficult, or even downright combative. But as we all know, parent involvement is an important factor in children’s success at school. So even though it may be tempting to ignore or avoid difficult individuals, learning how to deal with them is a much better strategy. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you deal with six types of extreme parent behavior.
1. The Constantly Present Parent
This parent is very friendly and engaging but at times overly chatty, wanting to have long conversations and dropping in at inconvenient times. The Constantly Present parent doesn’t seem to understand that this isn’t playgroup—you have an actual job to do. And that is to teach not only their child, but 25 more.
How to deal:
It’s best to assume that this parent has nothing but good intentions. Welcome them, but set boundaries. “I’d love to hear more about that, but right now I need to get the children into the classroom so we can start our day. Perhaps you can email me.” Better yet, make constructive use out of their energy—include them by giving them a job to do. If you find their presence in the classroom too distracting, suggest they help out in the library or office, or send home projects for them to do at home. Communicate guidelines with all parents by sharing your classroom schedule, policies, and expectations in your back-to-school newsletter or on your class website.
2. The Nervous Nelly Parent
Then there are parents who are genuinely having a hard time separating from their child. They’re not too sure their child can actually survive without them and worry incessantly about their child’s well-being. Are they making friends? Wearing their coat? Eating every bite of their lunch?
How to deal:
Your best strategy with a Nervous Nelly parent is to build trust. Calmly and warmly reassure them their child is in good hands—you are, after all, a professional. You may need to invest in a little above-and-beyond communicating with this parent. Set up a system that works for both of you. Maybe you send a quick email midday to let them know how their kid is doing. Maybe you include a communication log to send back and forth in their child’s homework folder. Consistently and regularly keeping all parents in the loop builds trust and goodwill.
3. The Invisible Parent
Every once in a while you’ll wonder if one of your students actually has a parent at home. They don’t show up at meet-the-teacher night or at conferences. Your phone calls and emails go unreturned—you don’t hear a peep.
How to deal:
Find out why. Are the parents apathetic or overloaded? Maybe they’re working multiple jobs just trying to keep a roof over their family’s heads. Perhaps there is a language or cultural barrier. Ask the student’s former teachers about their experience with the family—perhaps they have valuable insight. Involve admin to help you problem solve. Maybe the family is in crisis and needs help. No matter what, be professional and keep up your end of communication with all parents.
4. The My Child Can Do No Wrong Parent
Some parents don’t exactly have a clear picture of who their child is outside of the home. And when you try (in the most professional way) to inform them that perhaps their child is not a complete angel, they respond with indignant reproach. “How dare you suggest my child talks too much/picks on other kids/is disrespectful to teachers, etc.?”
How to deal:
The best way to deal with this parent is with straight-up honest communication. Document incidents (in your classroom and when the child is with other teachers). Let the parent know that you are not condemning their child (or their parenting), but rather you want to help the child be the best person they can be. Meet with the parent and child together. While they may sing a song of innocence at home, they may not be able to carry the tune in front of you.
5. The But My Child Is Special Parent
Every parent wants to believe their child is the best and brightest, deserving of special recognition. But some parents get uber-competitive about it. “Why isn’t my child in the highest reading group? Being tested for gifted? Have the starring role in the play?” This type of parent is frequently the kind to complain their child is not being challenged.
How to deal:
These parents need reassurance that you understand and believe in their child. But sometimes a reality check is in order. This is where data can be your best friend. Share assessments and have an open conversation about the child’s abilities and potential. Assure the parent that in your classroom every child is special and that it is your mission to ensure that every child has the opportunity to shine.
6. The Practically an Expert Parent
A lot of people think that their experience as a student automatically qualifies them to be a teacher. After all, they successfully graduated from school, so of course they know all about education! Sadly, they don’t respect the years of study and experience you’ve put into being on the other side of the desk.
How to deal:
When an “expert” parent challenges your teaching style or curriculum, politely listen (they may have valuable insight) and try not to get defensive. Explain how you teach—the methods you’ve discovered that work best for you and your students and the resources you use to meet the required standards. Provide them with copies of materials that will help them understand your objectives and the research behind the methods you use. Invite them to come observe your class; they may walk away with a greater understanding of the scope of your job.
Extreme parent behavior can definitely be one of the most challenging parts of a teacher’s job. But keeping a steady eye on the needs of your students, and a belief in yourself as a professional, is a surefire way to find a resolution that is in everyone’s best interests.
How do you deal with extreme parent behavior? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.