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Resources for Dealing with Difficult Parents & Students

Dealing with angry parents and difficult children is a major part of being employed in the field of education. Learning how to handle volatile situations and refocuses angry emotions into positive energy for change and improvement is a skill that can be learned by almost anyone. Let us examine some time-tested techniques for defusing situations, approaching parents in a positive manner, and voicing concerns constructively.

How to Defuse a Volatile Situation

Angry parents are in touch with emotions but may have temporarily lost focus on children’s behavior or grades. Learning to defuse situations by acknowledging their frustrations but keeping the focus on facts rather than personalities is a valuable skill for teachers and school administrative staff. Here are three guidelines to quickly defuse anger and allow all parties to respond rather than react.

  1. Use time outs to allow emotions to dissipate. Acknowledge concern, but ask for the opportunity to research the situation and get the facts. Set a time for a conference to show the parent good faith about intentions to resolve the conflict.
  2. Ask parents to put the concerns into writing. This focuses them on facts rather than emotions, and makes them accountable to do fact finding with their children. Teachers or other staff members with involvement should also prepare a written version. Finally, do your homework and find out who the players are, what event or events triggered the conflict, where and why it happened, and what the expected resolution should include.
  3. At conference time, use a recording device or have a secretary take notes and prepare a written transcript of what occurred. Memories can be faulty and the heat of anger can cause distortions, so taking this precautionary step may save further disputes or conflicts.

Approaching Angry Parents

Maintain a calm manner with angry parents. Acknowledge their feelings, but avoid taking sides or being drawn into conflict. Delay dealing with the situation until there has been time to gather the facts and talk to everyone involved. Many conflict situations are self-limiting; in other words, they resolve themselves once the angry parent settles down and has time to think clearly.

How to Voice Concerns Constructively

Try to sandwich concerns or criticism between genuine compliments. Every child has admirable qualities and skills. Keep the focus on behavior and performance, not on the person. Avoid trigger words, and treat all individuals with dignity and respect – even when they are not acting in a likeable manner. Here are some quick tips:

  • Do not become defensive.
  • Keep your tone calm and use a soft voice.
  • Keep the conversation private; move to another location if necessary.
  • Acknowledge and agree with their feelings: “I can see you’re frustrated.” Let them know you are listening, and allow them to vent.
  • Maintain relaxed energy and body language.
  • Move on and use facts.

How to use Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a great behavior management tool. Remember to reinforce wanted behaviors and ignore unwanted behaviors – this works for parents as well as students. Be specific about why their behavior was appropriate or helpful and help them see the benefit to themselves and others. Use praise, but be honest. Insincere praise destroys trust and credibility. Model the behavior you expect from others, and watch how defusing volatile situations becomes easy and less stressful for everyone.