How to Have Difficult Conversations with Parents

Category: Ilm o Amal

There will come a point in every teacher’s professional life when she will be asked to have a difficult conversation with students’ parents. In this month’s Ilm o Amal, TRC staff discusses different ways to have challenging conversations with students’ parents.

You know that child who is struggling in academics? Or the one who displays behavior issues? As teachers it is part of our job to report these issues to their families. Telling parents that a child is not performing up to the expected grade level or is misbehaving can be a challenging task. It can become a very difficult conversation that teachers have to have with parents. Here are a few tips on how you can prepare for difficult conversations with parents.

The Compliment Sandwich
Picture this: You know you have to be honest with the parents about their child’s performance, but you have difficult information to deliver. There are two components of delivering bad information. One part is what you have to say it and the other part is the way you will pass on the message.

Think this through and try creating a compliment sandwich. Put the bad news literally in the middle of complimentary language. The ‘bread’ can be the buffer for your bad news. You need to prepare for this, so before you meet the parents, think of good things to say about their child. Maybe he or she comes to school on time every day. Maybe he or she is polite. Think of the good points, and begin your conversation with those. Then deliver the difficult news and end on a positive note with a plan to move forward. This should help deliver the message and cushion it too.

Be Professional
As a teacher you will come across all sorts. There will be those who are bright and obedient and then there will be children who push your buttons. No matter how angry you get at a child, do not (we repeat do not) make it personal. This is not about you and the child. It is about the child behaving or doing well while being part of the school community.

If the child has misbehaved, keep a copy of the school’s policy on behavior and share it with the parent during the conversation. Many teachers set classroom rules with the students at the beginning of the year. Often this is a joint decision between the class teacher and her students.  If the child had agreed to certain classroom rules at the beginning of the year, you can show it to the parents during your meeting if necessary to drive home the point.

Have Evidence on Hand
Whether the child is displaying behavioral or academic problems, have evidence on hand to share with the parents. If the problem is academic, have examples of the kind of work you are expecting at that grade level for comparison. Do not share the names of the students whose work you are sharing.

If the child is displaying behavioral problems, then have evidence on hand. You can share notes or even a behavior chart if you use one in class. When you bring evidence to the table it lends legitimacy to your concern. It is also very important that you share evidence with parents on an ongoing basis as soon as an issue comes up.  Communicate often with them with regard to challenging behavior or academic issued on the child’s part, so the information doesn’t catch them by surprise when it is time for a meeting.

Give Advice Only if Asked
Sometimes parents are reluctant to take advice from anyone, let alone a teacher. So while you can have a few pieces of advice on how to tackle the issue, only give them to the parents if they specifically ask for it. Some parents can get offended if you give them too much advice. Instead of saying ‘Your child doesn’t do her homework ‘or ‘Your son hits other children’, try saying ‘Do you know that your child hits other children?’ This way you are allowing the parents to respond and it becomes a two-way conversation. Then parents would be more open to asking for and hearing advice. For academics you can give parents a list of reading or online resources that the child can use. For behavior you can discuss a way forward with the parents.

Set Boundaries
Sometimes parents want to discuss things with teachers in passing. They might approach you at the beginning of the day when they are dropping their child, or at the end of the day when they are picking him or her up. Bottom-line: Always schedule a meeting. As a teacher you can always say to the parent that, “I really want to discuss this with you, but let’s do it in a meeting.” It is important that you set boundaries. In a meeting you will be more prepared and focused on solving the problem at hand.

If during the meeting a parent starts blaming you or becomes aggressive, you are well within your right to stop the meeting. You don’t have to be rude while doing this. You can say “I don’t think this conversation is heading in the right direction. Let’s meet at a different date. I’ll let you know when I am available.” You can also stand up and start heading towards the door to convey with your body language  that the meeting is over.

While difficult conversations are challenging to have, it is always important to remind yourself of what you are trying to achieve with the conversation. You are not starting a campaign against the child. You are trying to support his or her academic and social growth, so the he or she grows up to a healthy, responsible and happy adult.
Having this end goal in mind will help you look past the challenges of the situation and will help you connect with the greater purpose of the task.

October 2019