Dealing with Difficult Parents


Dealing with Difficult Parents

Teachers and administrators are more likely to be effective when there is an alliance between the school and the student’s parent or guardian. Over the past 20 years, that alliance has weakened and in many cases has broken. The result is parents/guardians who have a hostile, even adversarial attitude toward the school.

In this workshop, I share what I have learned from more than three decades as a clinician, as well as from my visits to more than 500 schools worldwide over the past 20+ years. (You will find lists of my school visits from 2005 to the present online at I call attention to four varieties of “difficult parents”:

  • The arrogant and/or condescending parent. This parent – often middle-class or affluent – thinks that they know better than the teacher what is best for their child. This parent doesn’t respect the teacher.
  • Parents who hated school. These parents – often low-income – had bad experiences at school themselves, many years earlier. Some dropped out. Few graduated from college. They have a hostile attitude toward anyone associated with their child’s school, an attitude which may be due more to their own experience many years earlier than from anything that has happened recently.
  • The parent who believes that if their kid comes home in tears, for any reason, then the school did something wrong. It doesn’t matter if it was a physical injury such as a sprained ankle – “I’m not paying all this money for a private school for my kid to come home injured!” – or an emotional injury, because her child discovered she wasn’t invited to a party. If the kid comes home in tears, the parent is up in arms.
  • The parent of the child who has been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. This parent is likely to say something like “My son can’t help it, he is on the spectrum.” The parent is using the psychiatric diagnosis as an excuse for bad behavior.

I share strategies specific to each kind of difficult parent, strategies which change parents’ attitudes and restore the alliance, including detailed scripts, including exactly what to say to which parent.