Most people have one thing that will anger them more predictably than anything else, feeling like their child has been done an injustice. There are probably several reasons for this truth. Some parents spend massive amounts of energy working to avoid stress and disappointment from affecting their child. Other parents see their child as an extension of themselves, and if they feel that their child has been wronged, then they internalize it and own it as if they were directly affronted. I have been able to hold hundreds, if not thousands, of meetings with angry parents, with less than I can count on one hand being angry when they left my office.
Regardless of what the parent sees as the root of their frustration, you need to approach the conversation the same. You listen. This is probably no shock as the first part of helping the parent work through their frustration, but it is often overlooked. If you find that a parent is circling around their points over and over again, then you should ask yourself if you have demonstrated that you hear them. Be obvious about demonstrating your understanding, and let them know that you understand why they are upset. If you don’t understand why they are upset, then keep asking questions until you do.
Demonstrate a matching level of concern for the event. You may know more or less about the situation, but either way, people want to feel mirrored emotions. I don’t mean that you get raging mad, but you can say, “If I were in your shoes, I think I can see how I’d feel the same.” This indicates that their feelings are valid. And truthfully, regardless of how you feel about the circumstances, feelings are always valid. When you have successfully heard the problem and demonstrated your intellectual and emotional understanding, it is time to begin to move forward.
This indicates that their feelings are valid. And truthfully, regardless of how you feel about the circumstances, feelings are always valid.
I have had parents mad at teachers, other students, other parents, and/or me. In every single case, I have found that it is a fool’s errand to attempt the repair the situation with a long-term fix in one conversation. You need to explain the first steps you will take to address the situation. In most cases, this sounds like, “I am going to need to get a complete picture of how _____ occurred, so I will be talking with the people involved in this situation.” Understand that the parent has already cemented the facts of a particular situation in their mind, so you will need to explain that further investigation is either for your benefit or procedurally required. Then close the initial meeting by asking if there are any other issues on their mind.
Now it is time to go to work. You need to get a full picture of the source of the parent’s frustration if you didn’t have it before. You need to hold a follow up meeting with the parent to explain your findings. This is an honest meeting. If you or your staff has wronged the student, then you own it and explain how you will prevent it from occurring again. If the parent is off base, then you explain how you see things differently. Know that you cannot satisfy everyone, but you can satisfy reasonable people. Engaging with people is essentially about letting them know that they have been heard, and that appropriate action is being taken to address their concerns.