A student’s parent can be your best partner, your worst nemesis, or somewhere in between.
As a teacher, you know it’s important that you navigate these relationships gracefully, so the child has the greatest opportunity to learn and grow. A child’s education may start in the classroom, but a parent’s support (or lack of it) has a huge impact on a child’s success in the classroom. Studies have shown that the children with supportive parents frequently earn higher grades, have better social skills, and go on to secondary education.
So how can teachers effectively communicate with problematic parents?
You will rarely find a parent that fits only one of these descriptions. In fact, parents all have a tendency to fit into any of these types at any given point during a year. Let’s explore how teachers can work together with 6 different types of parents.
1. The Ghost Parent
Common quote: “I can’t make it…again.”
The Ghost parent is rarely available for anything—whether it’s a parent-teacher conference or a school bake sale. This is the busy parent who may designate a nanny or babysitter to pick up her child every day. Ghost parents aren’t purposely avoiding you, or trying to be rude. In fact, like Casper, she’s usually very friendly when she does appear.
When you do catch a Ghost Parent, ask her about her preferred method of communication. Perhaps you’ve been sending emails to a dusty inbox or calling around 3 pm while she’s still working. Ask her if she prefers you send her text messages or call her at certain hours. If you can nail down her preferred method of communication, you’ll win half the battle. If she’s still MIA, you may need to pull her aside and let her know how this could negatively affect your relationship and her child’s success.
2. The Helicopter Parent
Common quote: “How can we get this grade changed?”
The term Helicopter Parent is well-known, but we’ll define it anyway. Typically, a parent of this nature is over-involved and demanding of her student and her student’s teacher. You may even be tempted to boost her child’s grade so you won’t have to deal with the Helicopter Parent’s wrath when grades go out. The Helicopter Parent doesn’t want to ruin your day—she is acting out of fear that her child won’t make it in school, college, or life.
You can allay the fears of many potential Helicopter Parents by effectively communicating expectations at the beginning of the year. Let all parents know exactly how success will be measured, how often you will be in touch, and what they can expect. If you still run into problems, request a one-on-one meeting with the Helicopter Parent. In that meeting, reaffirm your appreciation of her desire to be supportive. Make note of something good she does, such as ensuring all of her child’s assignments are turned in on time.
Let her know that you care just as much about her child’s success as she does, but you need to set up boundaries so you can both help her child learn more effectively. Those boundaries might include an approved process for extra credit, or fewer (but more focused) meetings.
3. The Mole Parent
Common quote: “Trust me, I’m on your side.”
No, we don’t mean the little fuzzy blind guys who tunnel underground. We’re talking about the parents who frequently go undercover and operate as “secret agents” and spread drama to other parents and teachers—and worst of all, to upper management. The moment something happens that a Mole dislikes, she gains agreements over the issue with other parents or teachers under the guise of “needing advice.”
Mole Parents may not be trying to undermine you, but they have a problem with confrontation. Start off the year by making it clear that parents are allowed to come to you with problems—within reason (see #2). If a parent acts as a Mole one time, and you hear about it, it may not be a huge concern. However, repeat offenders should be addressed directly in a one-on-one meeting. Let the Mole Parent know that you value his or her opinion and would like to be informed first. Show them this isn’t just about them—gossip can be destructive and disruptive in a classroom. Emphasize that it’s important to set a great example for the kids.
4. The Bat Parent
Common quote: “I just can’t see my child doing something like that.”
You’ve heard the term: “blind as a bat.” Bat Parents may fit several categories, but they all have one thing in common: they’re not tuned into their children. Sometimes, it’s because they’re also Ghost Parents, and aren’t around to know their children are getting into trouble. Other times, they are Helicopter Parents who can’t imagine their child doing anything close to bad. After all, their child is perfect.
Bat Parents aren’t trying to call you a liar for saying their Precious Little Johnny just broke every single pencil in the classroom. Remember, it’s only because they don’t want their child to behave that way.
It’s important to know the different kinds of bat hybrids because you’ll deal with both of them differently. To enlighten a Ghost/Bat Parent, you’ll first need to nail him or her down—follow the suggestions under #1. To break the news to a Helicopter/Bat Parent, follow the suggestions under #2. Either way, make sure you frame the child’s problem in non-confrontational language. Bat Parents have been known to become Mole Parents if you rub them the wrong way.
5. The Goldfish Parent
Common quote: “That was due today?”
It’s been said that goldfish forget everything within three seconds. Whether or not that’s true, a Goldfish Parent is a typically well-meaning parent that may exhibit forgetful behavior. There are several reasons why. First, a parent could be a Ghost/Goldfish hybrid, and forget to pack her child’s lunch because she’s too swamped at work. Secondly, she might just be forgetful.
As teachers, it’s hard to empathize the second excuse. If we “forget” to create lesson plans or make it to a meeting with a parent, it’s inexcusable. Parents who repeatedly forget to sign permission slips, help their child finish homework, or miss meetings are frequently labeled as “lazy.”
Before you allow yourself to label a Goldfish Parent, remember that you don’t know the whole story. The Goldfish Parent may have been on her game last year—but she could be going through extremely difficult life circumstances, such as a death in the family. The best way to deal with a Goldfish Parent is by sitting down and having a heart-to-heart meeting with her about the way her forgetful behavior affects her child and your ability to do your job well. Most importantly, set up clear guidelines for the future, so she knows what to expect.
6. The Warrior Parent
Common quote: “We need to talk.”
Most parents can easily get into Warrior Mode if pushed too far. It’s different when you’re dealing with a consistently unreasonable Warrior Parent. Unlike most parents, Warrior Parents don’t really need a valid reason to get into a discussion with you. Anything could set them off—from the sprinkler that got them on their way to their car, to the “state of education today.” A Warrior Parent’s goal isn’t to make you cry— more frequently, anger is a cover up for other deeper emotions, such as fear or sadness.
When a Warrior Parent confronts you, it’s extremely important to maintain a calm demeanor. There’s nothing worse than getting into a shouting match, particularly with students around. If the Warrior confronts you in a public space, let him or her know that you will be happy to address the concern in a private room or at a later time (if you are busy or not prepared to deal with the issue).
Get to the root of the problem by asking plenty of questions and reaffirming answers. No, you don’t have to acquiesce to their demands, but frequently, when Warriors feel heard, their anger dissipates and you can come to a solution. If you are unable to assist the Warrior, or they threaten you or make you feel unsafe in any way, let your director or principal know immediately.
Remember, it’s not too late to strive for healthier relationships with the parents in your classroom. Follow the tips above, and you may notice a positive shift in behavior fairly quickly! Want to get more tips on educating kids effectively, plus special offers and chances to win free educational furniture and tools? Follow ECR4kids on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, and check out our great classroom supplies. Stay up-to-date with ECR4Kids for classroom tips and tricks, as well as giveaway information.