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Tried And Tested Tips: How To Deal With Difficult Parents


Learning how to deal with difficult parents can make your life infinitely easier if you are either a teacher or having to face your own difficult parents. Let’s go through the step-by-step process on how to deal with difficult parents, whether they’re your students’ parents or your own parents.

What are Difficult Parents?

Difficult parents can be described as rude, condescending, or toxic. They seem to want to make your life miserable no matter what you say or do. They bring stress to your life through their constant anger and arguments.

How to Deal with a Difficult Parent if You are a Teacher

1. Be the first to initiate conversation through a face-to-face meeting with the parents.

Being proactive can be a life saver in the long run. If you notice an issue with a student, reach out to the parents first to let them know what is going on. If you wait too long, they may get upset that they weren’t kept in the loop sooner.

2. Alert your principal or department chair to the situation.

When parents call to complain, it’s good for you to alert the principal right away. They may want to join you in a face-to-face meeting or be notified as to what the problem is.

3. Listen and ask questions.

Start the meeting off by greeting the parents politely and then asking them to explain what they are not satisfied with. Listen until they are finished and ask them questions to clarify if needed.

4. See yourself.

Keep in mind that you are only one aspect of their lives, no more or less important than any other aspect they are dealing with.

5. Put the parents in a position to succeed.

You want the parents to feel as though they are involved in the education and success of their child, through giving them a voice. It shows that you have the best interest of the student and their family at heart.

6. Establish common ground and try to find things you agree on.

If there are other areas you may see eye to eye on, even if not school related, bring those up to establish common ground. For example: Cheering for the same sports team, or having the same personal philosophy.

7. Let academic performance be the main focus.

In certain cases it may be best to let academic performance be the top priority as it tends to be less subjective and something both parents and teachers can agree on.

8. See the big picture.

Getting through the academic year is like running a marathon, with a series of small sprints sprinkled throughout. Help parents see the big picture to support their child in this marathon, and the overall potential of their child to succeed in the long run.

9. Get support from other teachers and staff.

Every teacher has to face difficult parents, so get support from your peers when you can. They should have tips or advice to help you get through difficult situations with parents from their own experience.

10. Don’t take it personally and know when the conversation is over.

If you try everything in the book and the parent is still being difficult, then know it has nothing to do with you. Set boundaries and move on. No need to carry the conversation on when it is over.

Parents can be difficult to cope with

Additional Teacher Tips for How to Cope with Difficult Parents

There are various types of difficult parents. Like your students, parents will come in all different personality types — some will be incredibly supportive of you and the work you do, while others won’t be able to be pleased by anything.

1. Set clear expectations from the first day of class by setting the tone of your authority.

Let the parents know your full process for marking and evaluating your students, as well as classroom rules.

2. Know when you need to take a step back and listen.

Parents love their children tremendously, and many times can let their emotions get the better of them. Know to hold yourself to a higher standard by taking a step back and listening to what they need to say.

3. See the positive side of things.

Point out something positive about the child to the parents. It makes it less stressful and easier for them to deal with any problem when they know their child is doing something good.

A mom comforts her upset child, as parents just want to protect their kids. 

Tools to Help Teachers Prepare for Difficult Parents

1. Stay calm.

Raising your voice or being aggressive will not solve any problem. By staying calm you are setting the tone that this is a professional environment and your focus is the solution.

2. Build a trusting relationship.

This will begin from day one. It may be common practice to notify parents when their child is misbehaving or having difficulty. By reaching out to parents when things are going well, you are establishing a trusting relationship so that if things do go poorly, they are more likely to be supportive of you.

3. Make it clear that you genuinely care.

For parents, just knowing that you genuinely care about the wellbeing of their child can be enough to avoid a difficult situation. This can go hand in hand with establishing a trusting relationship, by showing the parents you care about your students in various ways throughout the year, for example, celebrating their little wins.

4. Everyone will make mistakes.

Teachers and parents alike are susceptible to making mistakes from time to time. If a parent is correct in presenting one of your mistakes to you, then be professional and correct the error along with giving an apology.

5. Adjust your voice to speak in a quieter tone.

If the situation has escalated and you are on the phone or face-to-face with angry parents that are shouting at you, speak to the parents in a lower tone. That tends to be more calming and can alleviate some of the stress in the conversation. Often the parent will adjust their voice when they realize they have been shouting.

6. Use solid examples.

Taking clear notes will come in handy here. When speaking with difficult parents, having clear, undisputable examples will help you in your efforts. Their emotions may get the better of them, but solid examples are hard to dispute.

How to Cope When Your Own Parents are Toxic

1. Get clear on if their behavior is toxic or just bad.

Certain things that may be annoying, like nagging, is bad behavior but not toxic. If your parents can turn on you quickly and you feel anxious in their presence, however, then toxic behavior is likely at play.

2. Confide in siblings.

If you have them, use them! Siblings can be a great resource when dealing with difficult parents because they fully understand what you are dealing with and have the potential to be great support.

3. Lower your expectations.

You may wish your parents were perfect, and able to support you in exactly the way you need. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, and by lowering your expectations of them you are able to have a healthier relationship.

4. Set appropriate boundaries and remember to say no.

It is ok to say no. Sometimes when raised in a toxic environment you easily abandon yourself. Setting boundaries and saying “no” can help give back your power and the space you may need when feeling triggered.

5. Be prepared before you see them by having a “go to phrase” to redirect the conversation.

Know the early signs of the direction of a conversation that will likely turn ugly. For example, “I see you are getting frustrated, as am I. Let’s come back to this topic when we calm down.”

6. Remember how much they did for you.

Aside from the trauma and stress of difficult parents, it’s key to remember they did bring you into the world, they fed you, got you clothes, and made sure you went to school. They may have supported you right through college. All these efforts helped you grow into who you are today.

7. Go to therapy together.

If you don’t feel confident about addressing the toxic behavior on your own, seek counsel from a therapist.

A father reading to their small child.

Release the Hurt and Lessons to Learn

1. Be honest with others about your parents.

It’s common for people to want to hide any imperfection from their life. The more you hide, the worse it feels. Shame may creep in. By owning the situation, it gives you power and confidence — taking away a lot of the associated stress. It relieves the pain and is a healthy way to cope.

2. Allow yourself to grieve for the experience you really wanted.

The pain of not getting what you wanted as a child from your parents can stay with you for a lifetime. Grieve for the experience you really wanted. Face the anger you have towards them for not being able to offer you the support you needed from them.

3. Forgiveness is key.

Forgiveness is about accepting that things weren’t the way you wanted. Forgive your parents for the past.

Moving Forward

1. Accept what you can’t change.

While it would be wonderful for everyone to be friends with their parents, that just isn’t always the case. The faster you are able to accept this, the sooner you can have a sense of peace with regards to the relationship you have with your parents.

2. Look to the good qualities of your parents.

Even if your father or mother may not be able to support you in the way that you desire, what other qualities does he or she have that are good? Are they great at telling stories, able to help you fix things when they break?

3. Get support from others in similar situations.

By getting support from friends who have similar experiences, it can make dealing with your parents easier because you know you aren’t alone — and it can build tighter friendships.

4. Build the family you desire to have.

Family does not need to be limited to blood relations. Those friends that you lean on for support and guidance can be part of a family that you get to create.

5. Be the kind of parent you always wanted.

Your past doesn’t need to dictate your future. You are given an opportunity to create a family life that you desire to have. If you missed out on a listening and supportive mother, you can provide that to your children. If you wished your family would have spoken nicer to each other, then be sure to speak nicely to your family.


It’s not particularly enjoyable when you need to deal with difficult parents, whether they’re your own parents or your students’ parents. However, the results of effectively handling the situation can bring you a lot of peace and success to your life.

If you find the stress of dealing with difficult parents too much for you, try some of our calming tips to help reduce stress.

University of the People