We often talk about how educators can effectively communicate with their students. But for most K-12 teachers, it’s just as challenging – sometimes even more so – to communicate with their students’ parents. This is especially true when parents are angry or upset.
Most teachers have dealt with parent complaints at some point in their careers. Whether it’s a parent who’s upset about how you’ve disciplined their child or a parent who thinks you’re giving out too much homework (or not enough), it’s tough work fielding these complaints.
With the practice of mindfulness, you can communicate effectively with parents and help ease their concerns without losing your cool.
Here are 8 tips for teachers to have healthy, effective, and mindful conversations with parents to resolve conflicts.
Take a Mindful Breath
First, use mindfulness to ground yourself and keep yourself from losing your patience. It’s easy to become angry during a conflict with a parent, especially when the parent is blaming you for something that’s out of your control. Although it’s okay to feel angry, sometimes anger can make us behave in ways that we later regret.
Taking just 3 mindful breaths can help you become more mindful of how you’re feeling and the words that you’re using to communicate. You can take these breaths at any time during the conversation. You can also practice a quick mindful breathing exercise before entering into the conversation if you have the time to.
Listen to Their Concerns to Manage Conflict
It’s understandable to become frustrated with some parents for their concerns. But brushing them off or ignoring them is only bound to make them even angrier – and the conflict larger.
Listen to the parent’s concerns. Try to practice empathy – which means seeing the world (and the situation) through another person’s perspective. Allow them to finish telling you about their issues and concerns before offering solutions. Try not to interrupt; when you feel tempted to, take a mindful breath.
Remember You’re On the Same Team
It may be hard to remember when you’re in the middle of an intense conflict, but try to keep in mind that you and the parent are on the same team – you both want what’s best for the student. All parents want what’s best for their children, and parents may think they’re simply advocating (when to you, this “advocacy” feels intrusive and even aggressive).
This may be easier to remember if you, yourself, have a child. There may not be anything you can do or say to assure the parent that you’re on the same team – but remembering this, yourself, may help you to let go of some of the anger and resentment you feel.
Sit with Your Emotions
It’s tempting to want to push painful feelings away. For example, you might have received a nasty e-mail from a parent, and be overwhelmed with feelings of anger, resentment, or even insecurity or inadequacy. You may feel like deleting that email, and never thinking about the situation again.
In these painful moments, it’s important to learn how to sit with these uncomfortable emotions. Take a mindful breath, and name how you’re feeling. Allow the feeling to be present without pushing it away or becoming over-attached to it. Understand that this feeling is temporary. It does not define you as a person or as a teacher.
Step Away if You Need to
Again – responding to anger with anger typically makes the flames of conflict grow larger. If you need to, step away from the conversation. This may be easier said than done, especially if the parent is already feeling heated. But sometimes, it’s simply not fruitful to continue a conversation in this manner.
Let the parent know: “I’d be happy to talk about this with you, and I completely hear your concerns. It would be helpful if I could think this over on my own so that I can think about how I might be able to support you.”
Brainstorm Solutions Together to Manage Conflict
Sometimes, parents may be taking their anger about a schoolwide issue out on you. This is often because they don’t know who else to turn to in order to get their problem resolved. For example, maybe their child is waiting on an IEP evaluation. This is out of your hands, but the parent may not know where else to turn.
If you have the bandwidth, consider brainstorming solutions to the issue together. This may help the parent feel more at ease just knowing that you also want what’s best for the student.
Build Relationships and Trust
It’s easier for anyone to become angry at someone they don’t have a close relationship with. Early on, focus on building strong relationships with both your students and their parents. First of all, students who have positive relationships with their teachers do better at school – so this may reduce the number of parent complaints you get to begin with.
And when a student obviously has a positive relationship with you, their parent may have an easier time seeing that you’re there to support them. They may feel like they are able to trust you; that their child is in the best hands possible.
Don’t Reason with Disrespect to Manage Conflict
Lastly, there is no reason for you to have to reason or deal with any disrespect or abuse. If a parent is getting overly aggressive or even abusive, don’t be afraid to let them know that they need to return when they’re able to communicate more calmly and effectively.
This doesn’t mean that you need to respond in anger. For example, instead of yelling, “Get out of my classroom – I won’t stand for this!” you can calmly say, “This conversation isn’t productive, and I don’t tolerate yelling in my classroom from students or anyone else. I would be happy to continue this conversation when we’re able to talk about it calmly and effectively.”
If the parent continues to be abusive or violent, get administration involved.
Become a More Mindful Teacher with Calm Classroom
Calm Classroom’s easy-to-implement school mindfulness program doesn’t only help students; it helps teachers, too. Since 2007, we’ve offered simple, sustainable, and impactful mindfulness training to educators all over the world. Over 80% of teachers who’ve participated in our programs say that they are less stressed and anxious, and more aware of their thoughts and feelings.
To sign up or learn more information about how we might be able to support your school district, get in touch with us.