The relationships we build with families through the school are unique and sometimes filled with complications. We tend to feel very strongly about our students, and we wouldn’t be in the education profession if we didn’t want the best for each one of them.
Yet, we often forget that as passionate as we are about our vocation, we are each just one person in a long line of professional educators that parents deal with in the education of their child. Some parents enter the school system already feeling insecure or mistrustful of school faculty and staff. Some parents are still working through difficult experiences from their own years in school.
It can take as little as one bad experience to stain the relationship parents have with a school system, although some families have accumulated many more encounters that justify their feelings. Even without perceived or actual trauma, though, there are two things you can guarantee people are universally nervous about handing over to anyone else for care: their money, and their children.
We sometimes forget that we are educating and caring for the most precious parts of families. While teachers of the very young spend more time with children than parents do during the school week, it’s important to remember that families are still, and always will be, a very important part of our students’ lives.
When parents think their child is in any danger - whether physical or emotional, whether real or imagined - they tend to react instinctively rather than logically.
However, you are just as valuable. You never have to put yourself in a position to accept abuse of any kind. Your safety and mental wellness is vital for all of your students, your own family, and your own physical health. We want to help you find ways to balance those truths.
Here are a few of the kinds of parents we’ve dealt with over the years with a few tips for each.
Parents of younger students are probably more likely to escalate from “zero to anger” quickly - the younger the child, the quicker the parent escalates, in our experiences. This is largely because of the protective instincts we have as parents and not always because you’re dealing with a generally angry person.
One of the best ways to avoid angry parents is to over-communicate by anticipating their need to be informed. Tell parents what you’re doing in class, share photos of their child smiling and participating with a class-families-only webpage or app like ClassDojo, SimplyCircle, Remind, or Seesaw. This not only gives parents the opportunity to feel more involved, it also creates a home/school connection that can
Although this helps a lot, you may still encounter angry parents.
Many parental complaints stem from physical safety concerns. Parents of little ones are often very safety conscious. If the child is injured, the parents will want to know how they got the injuries and what action was taken on the child’s behalf. Parents will bring anything to your attention, no matter how small - bug bites, scratches, bruising of any sort.
While it’s impossible to keep track of every bump and bruise, be mindful that a parent’s imagination can be destructive. Remind children to let you know if they are injured so you can keep a record and notify parents when they need to be contacted
Try printing out and keeping “owie notes”. Quickly jot down the location, rough time estimate, and a few details about the injury and any care you provided (hugs, ice, and TLC are the most common treatments). Explaining the injury right away gives parents less opportunity to fear the worst.
As students age, it’s still important to write a quick note when injuries occur, even if it’s just a quick email or note in their take-home folder.
Most other angry issues are about grades, especially as children get older. Parents are also fearful of unfairness from you or another adult at the school. Listening and reassuring parents that you are on their side, want their child to succeed, and value them as an important part of your classroom family. Let them know, too, that you’ll go to bat for their child when it’s proper to do so with other school staff.
Make a plan for keeping track of slipping grades and contact parents to let them know in advance if a child is struggling. Parents get really frustrated if their child receives a failing grade on a progress report or report card and they feel they haven't been informed. Even if you’re sending home graded work, parents don’t always “get” that a child is failing unless you are very clear about it, so make it a point to bring it to their attention.
Keep a record of any communication you have with parents, too, in case they forget you’ve talked to them or you need to keep an administrator up to date on a situation.
Know that most angry parents are actually fearful, worried, or stressed in general. They may take that out on you, which is unfair, but if you can whether through the “explosion” of temper, many times you may be able to become an ally with them against whatever it is that’s really troubling them (fear, worry, or stress).
If any parents know how to hover excessively, it’s elementary parents - and fairly so.
When a child comes to Kindergarten, he or she has only been a human inhabitant on Earth for 5 or 6 short years. Most of us have socks older than that! No wonder they’re worried.
Some of our little students haven’t even been potty trained for more than a year (while one or two may still be working on that skill)! It defies human nature to send your most precious out there into the world without you all day long.
We know, however, that our students can handle it. We can also handle it. For parents who aren’t educators, though, it can be downright traumatic.
Our first bit of advice in this area is to be mindful and intentionally respectful of other cultures. In many cultures, parents and grandparents are still spoon feeding children until they are 8 or 9. Our definitions of “hovering” may be ludicrous ideas to some parents, and our early ages of suggested independence may appear to be bordering on neglect.
The best thing to do with a hovering parent is to give them something to do. If they’re going to be showing up daily for lunch anyway, ask them to help with some of your mundane tasks or things you just don’t have time to do (hello, pencil sharpening, we’re talking about you).
If they’ve filled out all the necessary paperwork with the school and district and they want to come “observe” frequently, give them more things to do! Copying, straightening, filing lesson plans (nothing with any personal student information on it, of course), filling take-home folders, etc… You’ve got too much for one person to do, anyway! Share the love (and by love, we mean “busy work”).
Give them PTO information, and have them attend meetings and report back on how it went! Get them involved in other parts of the school and with other classrooms. There are so many jobs in the running of a school that can be delegated.
Helicopter parents often just want to be seen and be involved. Make a place and time for them to do that at YOUR choosing, and you’ll be a lot less frustrated with them (you may actually grow to love them and depend on them! But no pressure…).
And some helicopter parents will run far away very quickly when you offer to give them something to do. Either way, problem solved!
One of our writers has some sort of homing device built-in for these special parents. You know the kind - they’ve already read about your entire life on social media before their child gets to meet-the-teacher-night.
They follow you around the store, stop by your house, text or call you ten times a day, and join your church (three out of four of those have actually happened to us personally).
The writer mentioned above actually had a parent who was a coworker who would follow said teacher down the hall at lunchtime to “chat” about their mutual child/student. The teacher hid in the bathroom every single day for a year to escape (word to the wise, fellow teachers, DON’T be that mom)!
If the parent works with you, as in the last example, talk to your administrator. That’s not cool, and hiding in the bathroom is no one’s idea of a good time. .
Social media stalkers are possibly the most difficult to deal with because they win every single time. Most districts have strict regulations about what you can even post on social media, and nearly all have social media regulations built into contracts or as a separately signed document.
Be very careful what you say on social media and what pictures you share. Whenever possible, use the most private settings available for anything you share. Never reveal your address publicly, where you shop, your favorite places to eat, or anything about your family.
Is this ridiculous? Absolutely. But unfortunately, there are people who will use any information about you they find.
Be aware and stay safe.
If you have a parent following you around or one who makes it a habit to speak to you at length about their child when they see you outside of school, let them know that because of confidentiality rules, you can’t share their child’s information in such a public setting (wink, wink), but you’ll be happy to set up a time during your conference hour.
Immediately ask them when they’ll be available and schedule them right there where you’re standing in the underwear aisle if that’s where they’ve found you! Then turn your cart around and say as you walk away, “Okay, great! Can’t wait to visit with you Thursday!”
Another thing you can do is wear earphones. It can be relaxing to listen to music or books in public places, but even if you just plug in and don’t listen to anything, it’s very handy when you “don’t see” a parent in a public space.
It’s a shame teachers have to go to this length, but sometimes you just need to buy your toilet paper and cereal and go home (and not post about it on social media).
Stalker parents can actually become really useful, too. If they’re stalking you on social media, ask them to take a break from looking at your stuff and ask them to research a few options for field trips. Get them involved in helping the school with their social media. Ask them to research the best kinds of pencil sharpeners or math board games.
Sometimes stalker parents are also just wanting to be involved and know you or the school personnel in a non-threatening way. If this is the case, give them jobs to do! Get them involved somewhere - even with another grade level, in the library, or with the PTO so they can fill that need to get “insider information” without it having to be about you personally.