Plan ahead for meetings with parents

tips meeting difficult parents

  1. Be clear about the purpose of the meeting. Is it fact finding, information giving, or a mixture of these? Don’t walk into a meeting ‘cold’. Have some thoughts regarding the way forward, but be flexible and willing to listen.
  2. Make sure siblings are catered for by providing paper, pens, an iPad or toy box. It is difficult for a parent to juggle a distracted toddler, while trying to engage in meaningful communication.
  3. Listen attentively to the parent. Find out the parent’s concerns and what they know, rather than telling them everything you know about their child. This helps to avoid the parent becoming defensive about your conclusions, suggestions, recommendations or solutions.
  4. Ensure all valid parent concerns are noted and followed up. Such concerns include, but are not limited to a childʼs medical condition, safety, other wellbeing issues, learning difficulties or disorders, family stress, major loss, or parental diagnosis of anxiety or a medical condition. It is reasonable for parents to expect that perceived learning difficulties, and social issues such as bullying and other genuine concerns about the childʼs safety are investigated and followed up by the school. Schools with clear discipline and student management, welfare, additional or special education provision, focused and appropriate learning expectations, along with parenting resources, are usually well placed to assist.
  5. Make it worthwhile for the parent to attend. There is little use ‘hammering’ the point that the child is a problem, when you and the parents are at a loss as to what to do. Have recommendations and options that may help solve the problem or move things forward.
  6. Invite the right people. Should an ‘objective other’ be present to help steer the way forward and recommend or help set short-term actions that may assist? Consider whether the child requires further review by other teachers or professionals.
  7. Have clear strategies for assisting a parent to listen to you. For example, provide or jot down as the meeting progresses, several dot points on an A3 sheet to help guide discussion. Base your communication on your understanding of the concerns, observations and knowledge of the child, objective evidence, information and professional reports. Remember, some parents may make poor interpretations, or over-rely or fully believe what their child has told them.
  8. Learn to use a ʻwin-winʼ communication style, avoiding either party losing face or feeling intimated. The ʻpowerʼ of your communication is based on:
  • understanding the parent’s concerns
  • the strength of your relationship with the child and the parent/s
  • whether you have the ʻexpertiseʼ, authority and knowledge to assist
  • having clear assessment data and plans of action in place, resources or other ʻexpertsʼ to assist
  • the communication style you choose to use. For example, assertive techniques are designed to counter hostility and anger and help all parties arrive at a sensible and logical solution or conclusion.
  1. Carefully draft agreed actions and goals that are realistic and achievable. Ensure actions and goals are captured on the spot or as soon as possible after the meeting. For example, email or write the actions and photocopy for the parent before they leave the meeting.
  2. Role-play or practice assertive communication techniques in small groups at staff or team meetings. For more information, Psych4Schools members can access the document Negotiation and assertiveness techniques with parents on the website. Not a member? Click here to join.

Murray Evely and Zoe Ganim, Psych4Schools Psychologists