An Extraordinary Technique for Talking to Angry Parents

by | Oct 17, 2023 | Professional Development For Teachers | 0 comments

Have you ever wished there were workshops for teachers that helped you with a misbehaving student in your classroom, and you need to talk to his parents, but you are dreading talking to them?  Perhaps these parents have a reputation with all of his previous teachers of being defensive and angry, always defending their child and making excuses for his behavior. In this article I will share an unbelievably effective technique for telling parents unsavory news about their child, while not triggering parents’ defensiveness and keeping them on your side.  Sounds too good to be true? Read on! As a special bonus, I have added a 1 Minute Mastery lesson on this technique at the end of the article.

Perception Versus Perspective.  

When facing a defensive parent, the problem is often one of perception versus perspective.  The thing is, most people believe that everyone perceives the world exactly as they do. The immutable truth is, no one sees the world exactly as you do. You see the world through your personal perception. If you go into a meeting with a defensive parent and you are only looking at the world through your personal perception, there will inevitably be conflict. Your perception may be that this child is a constant disruption in class. He is always trying to be the class clown and get attention away from the lesson you are teaching, and onto him.

His parents are most certainly not looking at this situation from your perspective. Their perception may be that their son is energetic, hilarious and daring.  Furthermore, the parents may believe that any disruptive behavior is your fault.  As the teacher, you haven’t been challenging him enough, and don’t appreciate his energy and sense of humor. 

If you go into a meeting outraged and indignant, ready to  list all of the indiscretions the student has committed in your class, the parent will automatically get defensive, because your perception does not match theirs..  You may get angry at them for not seeing what is wrong, and they may get incensed by your lack of understanding and empathy.

Change Perception to Perspective

The solution is easy to describe, much harder to put into practice.  I have always had better meetings when I work very hard to change my personal perception to their perspective.  I really try to see this situation from the parents perspective.  How would I feel if I had a child and someone angrily came at me with a long list of what is wrong with my child.  I know that my protective instincts would come to the fore, and I would want to protect my child, and maybe one more thing. If I am being told all of the things wrong with my child, it is difficult if not impossible for a parent not to see that as a personal attack on them. As the parent of this child, they have molded that child into the person he is today. If you are accusing their child of being disobedient and badly behaved, they may see that as an attack on them. You are accusing them of being lousy parents. This discussion was supposed to be about the child’s misbehavior. Now it has escalated into an emotional issue, triggering shame and guilt in the parent.

To paraphrase an old saying “There is only one perfect child in the world, and every parent has it”. This child, who is driving you crazy in the classroom, is their precious bundle of joy. They watched him take his first steps, they stayed up late with him when he had a fever.  In my experience, it is the rare parent who can take an angry barrage from a teacher, remain calm and understand how frustrating it must be for the teacher in the classroom.

So, my first suggestion is to take the parents’ perspective. See that child as they must see him, not as the exasperating imp you may see in class every day.

Workshops for Teachers: The Theory of Overdone Strengths

Now comes the good stuff.  If you can take their perspective, that is an important first step. However, you still have to let them know that their child is being disruptive and they must work with you to stop this misbehavior. How can you tell them the bad news, and still keep them on your side and not defensive?

To answer this question, I want to share the best thing by far I have come across in my four decades in education. I wish there were workshops for teachers on this topic. The technique is called The Theory of Overdone Strengths. This is the brainchild of psychologist Eric Fromm. What Fromm suggested was that there are no weaknesses in a person, just overdone strengths.  For example, if I am confident, that is a wonderful strength, but if I am too confident, and that strength of confidence is overdone, then I could be perceived as arrogant.  If I am trusting, that is a wonderful strength. But if that strength is overdone and I am too trusting, then I am gullible and will fall for anything. 

In our example with the parents, I could tell the parents that their son has a great sense of humor.  Having a sense of humor is a wonderful strength and will certainly help him be successful in life, but often that strength of humor is overdone. He tries to be funny at inappropriate times throughout the day. This disrupts his learning and the education of the entire class.  So what we need to work on is to help him pull back that wonderful strength of humor, and only use it during appropriate times, when he won’t get into trouble and he can be appreciated for his strength.

Taking that approach will most certainly not trigger the parents shame or guilt.  They are being told that their son’s sense of humor  is a great strength.  You want them to help guide him into pulling back that strength so it can be appreciated at appropriate times.  Nothing wrong with that!  

Are you getting your message across?  Yes. The parents are aware that he is constantly disrupting during the day.  Do you think you have a better chance at getting parents’ support with this approach than if you vented all of your frustration at them?  Again, probably yes because you did not trigger their natural defensiveness to protect their child.

The Theory of Overdone Strengths has helped me countless times over the years to facilitate difficult conversations with parents. I hope you give it a try so you can experience the power behind this impactful technique.  The Theory of Overdone Strengths is just one example of the kind of techniques that you will get with your 1 Minute Mastery subscription.  These videos are like mini workshops for teachers that are research-based, practical strategies for dealing with common problems in the classroom. The difference is you don’t have to make lesson plans and leave your classroom. These videos are delivered directly to your personal email inbox 1 time a week, every week of the year.  Techniques and strategies to help you with getting and keeping attention, engaging and connecting with students, and even dealing with parents and stress are all coming your way. Each video is less than 2 minutes in length and you only get one a week, so you can laser focus on only 1 strategy per week, to help you master it and make it a part of your professional practice. Check out the example of a 1 Minute Mastery video below. 

You can also contact us to find great options for workshops for teachers, and discover how you can get 1 Minute Mastery for your entire school for free for 1 year!  Teachers remember, teaching can be hard, so please be kind to yourself. Enjoy this 1 Minute Mastery video on The Theory of Overdone Strengths.