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Dealing with Difficult Parents

Taken from the article "14 Steps to Teacher Assertiveness: How to cope with difficult parents, principals and staff members" by Mike Moore

Remember that you can't change toxic parents, principals or fellow staff members, but you can learn to cope with them and neutralize their impact on your life. Here are some effective strategies to try.
  • Always stand at eye level with the person you are confronting. Never have them standing over you, looking down.

  • Respect the toxic person and always expect respect in return. Settle for nothing less.

  • Remain calm. A calm cool response to an angry verbal barrage can neutralize a toxic experience.

  • Listen attentively.

  • Don't argue or interrupt, just listen.

  • Don't accuse or judge, just state how you feel about the situation.

  • If the toxic person tries to verbally bully you, just say, "I'm sorry but I don't allow people to treat me this way. Perhaps we can continue this when you have calmed down." Then slowly and calmly walk away.

  • When someone is being toxic to you here is a powerful response and one that is easy to use because you don't have to say a word. In the midst of a toxic attack just ........ PAUSE....LOOK AT THE PERSON, WITHOUT EMOTION......TURN AND WALK AWAY. It works!

  • While anger is sometimes a valid response it has to be used as a last resort. Anger doesn't usually accomplish anything with a difficult parent and can actually cause further alienation.

  • Put your qualifications on display. Whether people like to admit it or not they are impressed by paper qualifications. When you enter a doctor's office you see behind his/her desk all the degrees, diplomas and additional courses taken in various medical fields, etc. When you see this you begin having more confidence in the expertise of the doctor. I think teachers should do the same. Behind your desk have copies of your degrees, teacher's certificates, professional courses taken etc. mounted on the wall for all to see.

  • When Interviewing a difficult parent never sit behind your desk. Move your chair out from behind the desk and place it close to and in front of the parent. This sends a strong assertive message to the one being interviewed. It says, "I am comfortable and confident in this situation." That's just the message your want to send.

  • Never underestimate the power of a stern, disapproving look. It certainly saves you words and allows you to assert yourself with minimum risk. If someone is doing or saying something that puts you down or tries to overpower you, give them a look of disapproval which says loudly and clearly, "BACK OFF."

  • Selective silence is one of the most effective ways of dealing with difficult people. It is easy to use, and very low threat. When people are being difficult, they are often seeking attention and power. When you respond verbally to their toxic attack you are giving them attention and power they desire. When you use selective silence you deny them both attention and power. You are basically ignoring them and no one likes to be ignored.

  • When you are being harassed by a fellow staff member or fellow teacher with your board, in the interest of professional ethics, you must have the courage to confront. You can do this verbally face to face, or in writing. Stay calm and professional. You can say something like this. " It has come to my attention that you have some concern about my teaching. Is this true?" Listen calmly and carefully to their response. Follow up with, " Perhaps you could put your concerns in writing. I will study them and get back to you with my written response." Great harm is done to a teacher's reputation and well-being by a fellow teacher acting unprofessionally. Challenge them.

REMEMBER.... You don't exist to be anyone's doormat.

This tips sheet is but a brief excerpt from Mike Moore's one hour audio program Coping with Toxic Parents which also includes material on how to deal with difficult principals and fellow staff members.

Mike Moore is an international speaker on humor and human potential. As a former teacher Mike has a special interest in the well being of teachers. He travels throughout Canada and the United States speaking on teacher wellness and assertiveness.
Visit his website at

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