You don’t become a principal for the short days and easy work. No, being a principal is one of the most unpredictable jobs you can have. You truly never know what each new day will bring.
One of the factors that makes the days so unpredictable is the parents. Yes, parents can be some of your greatest assets—and also your worst enemies. But at the end of the day, there’s no way around them. We pulled together some of the most common parent personalities we’ve heard about from our principal friends, along with tips on how to deal with each one. Take a look!
The “I’m going straight to the principal” parent
This parent will come to you with any complaint, big or small. They probably even have your number on speed dial. When you ask their child’s teacher about the issue at hand, the teacher never knows what you’re referring to—because they never talked to the teacher. This parent type can be especially frustrating for your staff. While this parent can be set in their ways, it’s important to remind them to start with their child’s teacher first.
The “Why can’t you make start time later?” parent
This parent is likely dealing with a child who hates mornings, and it’s a real struggle to get them going. Or maybe they hate mornings. Or maybe they work third shift. Whatever the case may be, this parent is dead set on having the district adjust the school’s start time. They make a case for it every time they see you. The best way to deal with this parent is to agree—“Oof, I know. Mornings are hard for me, too.”
The “Why aren’t you parenting my child?” parent
This is the parent who wants you to remind their child to wear deodorant, shower regularly, and do a host of other things that generally fall under the category of parenting. They’ll say stuff like, “Maybe she will listen if it comes from you,” and “Can’t you get him to do that?” The best way to deal with this parent is to give it to them straight. Let them know that they need to talk about these concerns at home.
The lawnmower parent
As outlined in our article on lawnmower parenting , these parents try to mow down obstacles for their children. (They mean well; they really do.) This parent will often ask for special accommodations for their child that go a little above and beyond. “Can you have someone cut the crust off my child’s sandwich at lunch?” Let this parent know that you are listening and that you hear them, but stay firm in your school’s rules and limits. Accommodating a lawnmower parent almost never ends after one request.
The overprotective parent
This parent looks a lot like the lawnmower parent, but they are actually a different type entirely. This parent worries. A lot. They will call you on rainy days, concerned about the muddy playground. They will email you about air quality, testing, and anything else they see in the news. You can deal with them in a similar way that you do the lawnmower parent. Hear them out and then give them your school’s policy on the given issue. If you don’t know, DO NOT tell them this. This will only worry the overprotective parent.
The defiant parent
This parent will challenge EVERYTHING. Nothing is off limits. You might get questions like:
- “Well, what’s the point of testing?”
- “Why does it matter if I take my kid out of school for two weeks?”
- “What if I don’t vaccinate my kids?”
The defiant parent can be one of the most challenging for principals to deal with because there is no easy answer. They will challenge almost everything you say. For this type of parent, your best bet is to be really, really prepared. And be strong! Don’t let them see you weak.
The “How are you challenging my child?” parent
You have likely seen a lot of this parent type in your days as a principal. They are often lawnmower parents, too. This parent likely believes their child is extremely smart, gifted, or talented in ways that haven’t been properly recognized by the school. They want you to do more, and they want it to happen within a few days. For this parent, take their request and hear them out. If you have programs for them to consider, let them know. Or if there are programs in the community, share those resources with them. Don’t engage with parents who compare their child to others or your school to others nearby in the community. Be confident in your staff, and let those parents know that you fully support your teachers.
The know-it-all parent.
“Oh, I know.” This is what you’ll hear a LOT of when you’re talking to the know-it-all parent. Many times, this parent is either an educator, former educator, or they “know” an educator. They probably are pretty informed overall, but don’t let that stop you from standing your ground. This parent needs to talk and tell you their opinion, so let them. They will appreciate being heard. Then state your position as clearly as possible.
The “You don’t like my child” parent
It’s a tough thing to hear as an educator, and you never want a parent (or child) to feel this way. Even though your first reaction might be defensive, try to truly hear this parent out. Then be sure to point out all the great things you know about their child. If you have trouble coming up with things, definitely pull the teacher into the conversation. And smile. Always smile when dealing with this parent.
The “Back in my day … ” parent
This parent is probably NOT the lawnmower parent. In fact, they might be the opposite. This parent probably thinks we coddle kids too much. They will often respond to what’s happening in school by saying things like, “Back in my day … ” or “When I was in school … .” They’re mostly pretty harmless and just complain. But they can be a definite challenge if you have to call when you have a general concern. When dealing with this type of parent, it’s best to stick to things like classroom rules, school policy, etc.
The always-mad parent.
This parent is so hard to please. It seems like you can’t do anything right. Just as you address one concern, they’ll bring you three more. They can often be rude, snarky, or even yell. If you can’t find a way in with this parent, bring in reinforcement. There’s no sense in creating a hostile environment for anyone.
The nonresponsive parent.
You write, you call, you even tried texting, and you’re still getting nothing. This parent is extremely hard to reach, and you’re really running out of solutions. For this scenario, try to meet them at drop-off or pick-up if possible. Otherwise, increase your sense of urgency in your messaging so they realize it’s a serious matter. Good luck on this one. It can be worse than having a parent yell at you. But don’t give up.
Do you have another parent personality type to add to the list? Join us on our Facebook groups, Principal Life and High School Principal Life.
Plus, how to work with lawnmower parents .