Handling Confrontational Parent Meetings … Without Ruining Your Day

 By Julia Hogan

You check your inbox and notice a new email pop up from a parent who is requesting a meeting. Your stomach sinks; these are the conversations you dread because they often turn into a blame game that leaves both you and the parents unhappy and frustrated. Although you are likely passionate about education, your passion may be harder to find in moments like these. Fortunately, these meetings don’t have to ruin your day. Practicing self-care techniques can help you minimize the stress both you and the parents experience from these types of meetings. And perhaps most importantly, it won’t rob you of your joy of teaching and will help boost your confidence as a competent educator.

Common examples of self-care that you’ve likely read in popular media usually include references to implementing a new skincare regimen, going for a manicure/pedicure, or taking a vacation. But authentic self-care that affects real change goes much deeper and lasts much longer. Authentic self-care is any strategy or practice that promotes your physical, mental/emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing. This perspective of self-care expands the definition so it can address a wide range of experiences and environments, including a parent-teacher meeting.

For example, being mindful of your emotions and stress levels before, during, and after your meeting can help you manage your stress and also serve as a form of self-care. This mindfulness can be as simple as taking a few minutes before your meeting to pause and take deep, focused breaths while focusing on what your goals are for the meeting or on your strengths as a teacher. It could also look like slowing down the pace of the conversation if it starts getting too tense. Even choosing the setting of your meeting to promote a calming environment can help reduce stress. The important thing to remember is that, with a little preparation beforehand, you can reduce the chances of a stressful meeting and increase the chances for a calm and productive one.

Empathy – a powerful tool

One of the most useful tools you can use to help ensure calm and productive conversation with a frustrated parent is extending empathy. Seeking to understand the other person’s perspective — even if you don’t agree with them — can be incredibly powerful in a parent-teacher meeting. Often parents just want to feel heard and understood by their child’s teacher. They may be confused, disappointed, or even defensive of their child’s behavior and may be unsure of how you are going to respond. By letting them know you understand where they are coming from and what they are experiencing, it sends the message that you are willing to collaborate with them and can eliminate their defensiveness.

Some easy ways to show empathy include:

  • asking for their thoughts and opinions,

  • rephrasing statements they’ve made to show that you are trying to understand where they are coming from, and

  • simply telling them that you understand how much they care about their child’s wellbeing.

These simple ways of showing empathy can go a long way towards building rapport with your student’s parents, and that will help increase the chances of a stress-free meeting with a positive outcome.

Setting boundaries for yourself

Setting boundaries is an important and often overlooked aspect of self-care. When you set boundaries, you are letting someone know what you are okay with and what you are not. People often think of physical boundaries but the concept also applies your emotions and your time (among other things).

These two areas can be particularly helpful when you have an upcoming parent-teacher meeting. Setting time limits and sticking to them is very important for managing stress levels and having a productive meeting. For example, choosing a time for the meeting so that you don’t feel rushed (and preemptively stressed) is important. So is setting a clear end time for the meeting so that it doesn’t run long.

Setting boundaries emotionally means being clear about what you are okay or not okay with within the context of the conversation. For example, if a parent becomes critical and accusatory towards your ability as a teacher, set an emotional boundary by saying, “Mr. Smith, I want to work with you to help your daughter. Please don’t disparage my teaching abilities. My goal is to help your daughter get back on track.”

A phrase like this lets the parent know you are not okay with the way they are speaking to you and helps to redirect the conversation back towards the goal of the meeting. Identifying your boundaries ahead of time and setting them with parents during meetings can help support a collaborative meeting.

Julia Hogan, LCPC

Julia Marie Hogan is a counselor in Chicago and owner of Vita Optimum Counseling & Consulting, LLC. She also leads workshops and writes on topics related to self-care, relationships and mental health. Her book, It's Ok to Start with You is all about the power of embracing your authentic self through self-care. She is passionate about empowering individuals to be their most authentic selves. You can find more of her writing online at juliamariehogan.com.

The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.