Dun, Dun, Dun! Angry parents can be one of the most dreadful parts of early childhood education. Nobody likes confrontation, especially when you know the opposition is coming at you already heated. While this is unpreferred, it happens! So let’s delve into this “hot” topic…
Before speaking or meeting with angry parents, it’s important to gather yourself. In every sense of the word. If you know what it is that they are angry about, it’s best to gather all of the information you can before speaking with them. If there were other students or teachers involved, speak with them first in preparation. This way you will have all of the information possible to speak on or share if appropriate.
It’s also a good idea to gather yourself mentally and emotionally. Teaching littles all day can be tiring and work on your patience by 4pm. Step outside if you’re able to, or in an empty room. Heck, you could even head out to your car and listen to a song or two. Just make sure you take a bit of time to get yourself in a calm and accepting mindset. This will ensure that you are the best version of yourself patience-wise. And hey, if it helps you to bring your coffee along, by all means, do it!
When dealing with angry parents (or really any parents that bring something to your attention) it’s always better to listen first. Hear what they have to say. It might not be as bad as you think, it might not be what you think, and they might calm down as they hear themselves speak. Whatever it is, just listen first. If you come in guns a blazin’ as well, that’s just a recipe for disaster.
‘Peace starts with you’ — one of the best mantras of the early childhood education world. This holds true with loud, energetic, boundary-pushing little tiny people in your classroom, and it absolutely holds true with angry parents as well. Peace starts with you. The parents are upset, you know they are angry. However! You’ve gathered yourself, you’ve listened, now is the time to remain calm as you respond. Your calm will create their calm. Even if you are right and they are wrong, it’s imperative that you remain the constant here. You can disagree and be peaceful at the same time. Regardless of how the conversation is going, peace starts with you.
Verify Their Concerns
99.9% of the time, parents just want to feel heard and validated. That’s all. Parents have real concerns — their sole job in this life is to love, protect, and advocate for their babies. And the term “mama bear” exists for a reason! Validation can really help a super heated conversation. If the parents feel heard and validated, they are more likely to simmer down and listen to you as well.
Stick to Facts
This is a must in any communication with parents. Unless parents specifically ask for your opinion, always stick to facts. Offering your opinion without being asked, especially when parents are angry, can really amp things up. If you state directly what is observable, there is no wiggle room. That’s the cozy spot.
Set Time Limits and Boundaries
When parents are angry and ask to speak with you, first and foremost, schedule a time to speak or meet. If possible, it’s best not to speak with angry parents in passing. If they bombard you, you can remain calm and reply with something like, “I hear that you have concerns, I’m happy to set up a time to speak with you further.” This gives them time to cool off a little bit and at the same time gives you time to gather yourself. When setting up a time to meet with angry parents, always set time limits. It’s best to stick to 15-20 minutes. This way, both parties need to stick to the time restraints and there will be less of an opportunity for a long-winded rant (Yikes!).
A very important boundary to set is that the child(ren) not be present. It’s detrimental to children to hear these types of conversations. Children benefit greatly from feeling like their parents and teachers are on the same team. Make sure the parents know to leave their child at home if you are meeting in person.
There are two major benefits to documenting these types of meetings and conversations. Having a simple Parent Conference form is the most universal way to document these conversations over the course of the year. The form can be filled out with as little or as many details as needed and kept right in that child’s file. One of the major benefits of this is that, again, the meeting is regimented and there is a purpose and a “schedule” to stick to. You should be listing the reason for the meeting, the parents’ concerns, and any follow up needed or decided upon. Simple as that! The other major benefit of documentation is that it covers your bum. For conversations that occur in person or over the phone, it’s essentially your word against their word, so it’s always best practice to document. This way, you also have these forms to look back on for information if need be.
Reconvene (If Needed)
If your conversation starts to teeter over the 20 minute mark (or whatever time limit you have set) wrap up current discussion and set a different day and time to continue the conversation. It’s helpful if parents know that this will happen ahead of time. When discussing the original time and place to meet, let them know that if it goes past a certain time, you can definitely reschedule a continuation of the meeting for a different day. If you lay this out ahead of time, parents typically come in organized, stick to the time limits and wa-la! You won’t even have to reconvene!
Invite a Third Party (If Needed)
Depending on how angry the parents are, it may be beneficial to have a third party present. This keeps everyone in check. If you are a classroom teacher, perhaps have your director there. If you are a director, perhaps invite your assistant director. You can also be up front with the parents about this and say something like, “just to keep everyone in check, Mr. or Ms. so-and-so is going to join us as a third party.” Most of the time, parents also appreciate this.
While dealing with angry parents may be the bane of your educator existence, it’s part of the job! As early educators, we are responsible for being in communication with our students’ parents. And that communication may not always be sunshine and roses! Implement some (or all!) of the above, and you’ll have an easier time getting through. Who knows, you may even come out on even greater terms than before!