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When you decided to become a teacher, you did it to change the lives of children. You never imagined that attached to those children, you might find parents with endless questions, some of which go well beyond the scope of your classroom, or that some parents might get more difficult than planning lessons. Unfortunately, we all come in contact with an angry parent sometimes, and it takes some skill and tactical reasoning to navigate those choppy waters. Dealing with an upset parent can take up some time and can take an emotional toll, but if the situation doesn’t get dealt with appropriately, you may wind up with an even bigger problem on your hands. Putting your head in the sand like an ostrich will only make the angry parent angrier, thus making your life even more miserable later. You can keep calm in the face of these angry parents, even resolving the conflict, with these strategies:

9 Ways to Keep Calm and Soothe the Angry Parent

1.Listen. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, right? I know that’s a really old saying, but I think it holds true and that we should follow it when we’re trying to maintain a positive relationship with other people. We should listen more and speak less. Stop trying to defend your position for a minute. What does the parent want? Really want? Let them know they’ve been heard and that you want to help. Put yourselves on the same side–the side of the child.

2.Use kind words. Okay, so that totally came from my part of my classroom expectations poster, but it totally applies here too. Do you know how often I’ve sat down in an IEP meeting or another parent meeting and heard people forget to talk about a child’s strengths or say that they couldn’t think of any strengths? Every child has strengths. Come into the meeting prepared to talk about them, because that student in your classroom is this parent’s baby. Think about what that means.

3.Keep good records. Make sure you keep records of everything. Dates and times of phone calls made to the parent in a parent communication log come in handy. Make sure that you keep track not only of when you’ve contacted the parent, but the actions you’ve taken afterward if an issue has arisen with the child and what resulted from the action. If you’re documenting academic weaknesses or anything to do with an IEP, document interventions made or how accommodations were made, success rate with goals, etc., so that you can discuss these things with documented proof.

4.Stay in Contact. I cannot tell you how much better things go when parents know ahead of time about a problem, but when you don’t stay in touch with parents, they tell you about it. Never let the words, “well I didn’t know anything about this” slip out of a parent’s mouth and the statement ring true. Proactivity! Let the parent know if there’s an issue with their child so they get the opportunity to help you handle it. You might even consider slipping in the occasional positive phone call to really get the parents on your good side. The parent who only hears from you when it’s bad news probably dreads your phone call.

5.Think on It. Sometimes parents ask questions that we simply don’t know the answers to or that we’re not comfortable answering. Do not be afraid to ask for time to think about the question and get back to the parent. Do not answer a question you’re not comfortable answering. Just make sure you get back to that parent within a couple of days with an answer. You don’t want to make that parent feel ignored!

6.Limit the Conversation – Redirect. If you’re in the middle of a meeting and there’s a overshare situation, what do you do? You know it happens. The parent tells you about something very personal and it’s not relevant to the child, making the conversation turn extremely awkward. Your meeting has time constraints, so you can just remind the parent that you’d like to keep the conversation focused on the child so you can finish up the meeting.

7.Table the Meeting. When things get confrontational during a meeting, and you cannot handle the heat anymore from the parent, the best thing to do at that point is to table the issue until another time and date when everyone has had the opportunity to calm down and think about the situation some more. Nothing gets accomplished at a meeting when everyone’s feeling confrontational. If the situation gets threatening, ask an administrator to attend your next meeting.

8.The Hoverers. So, what about the parent who wants to come and sit in your classroom all day, every day? The one who won’t let her precious child go and gain some independence? The one who pushes her child to do more even than you recommend, creating frustration between you, her, and the child? See if you can hook that parent up with some volunteer opportunities somewhere else in the school and give the parent something else to focus on. Have the conversation that her child needs to develop independence and social skills by interacting normally with peers. You could welcome that parent in a couple of times a week as a compromise, leaving your open-door policy open, but this might give the child some breathing room.

9.Be Prepared. If things look dicey, make sure you give your administration a heads-up of the situation. It’s better to let them know up front to head it off than have the parent file a complaint and it seem like it came out of no where. Keep all of your documentation (parent contacts, etc) handy just in case you need it. Know your school board policy just in case you need it.

While you may have gone into education with children in mind, it’s safe to say that as long as there are children, you’ll need to learn how to handle parents. With these 9 strategies, you can keep parents happy, which will keep your students happy. Also, with the parents on board with you, you’ll get more results because they’ll help you keep your student on track in the classroom. That’s what I call a win-win situation. Good luck and happy teaching!

What do you do to maintain positive relationships with parents?


Teresa Cooper is a 30-something divorced mom and teacher from North Carolina. She has a Masters of...

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