How to Deal with Difficult Parents

It never fails! You are all bright and shiny at the start of a new school year, excited to meet your new class parents when...you get that first email, phone call, or note that makes your heart sink.

Let's face it, you are going to have parent relationship challenges every year. It just comes with the profession. The best strategy for getting through the school year with them successfully is to be prepared. You may not know who they are yet, but you know they are coming.

I've seen teachers SINK because of their relationships with parents. I've struggled with parent communication in the past, but I have developed some strategies that I use to prevent problems and reply to hostile parents with grace. Here are my tips and ideas to help you deal with difficult parents.

Teachers, are you dealing with difficult parents in your schools? Even with perfect classroom management and planning, you will encounter a students with parents that take issue with your teaching. These ideas and tips for dealing with difficult parents will help you enjoy your kids and have a great school year!

1. Set professional boundaries.

The first and the best thing you can do to deal with difficult parents is to set a professional tone with ALL the parents in your classes. As teachers, we can tend to be overly friendly and outgoing and expect others to be receptive. Setting professional boundaries is a way to protect yourself from disappointment and confusion when a parent reveals themselves to be difficult.

Setting boundaries includes parameters around communication. Don't set the expectation with your class parents that you will be available at the drop of a dime throughout the day. Include in your back-to-school packet the times of the day you will be available to communicate. Include from the beginning when you are available to meet. Communicating about a perceived issue TOO MUCH can allow it to spin out of control (Please, please don't do this). Think very carefully about sharing your personal cell phone number with parents (I recommend against it). Blurring the relationship lines with parents in your class can enable dysfunctional relationship behaviors from their personal lives to bleed into your professional relationship.

2. Reach out to the student's previous teachers.

Once you know that a certain parent is going to be a challenge, reach out to the student's previous teachers. This is not to gossip or complain, but rather to seek input about effective strategies. By the time you get a student, several teachers have probably been through the situation you are heading into. There's no need to reinvent the wheel! Find out what has worked in the past and implement those strategies. Prior teachers may also be able to help with ideas for helping students on track.

Teachers, are you dealing with difficult parents in your schools? Even with perfect classroom management and planning, you will encounter a students with parents that take issue with your teaching. These ideas and tips for dealing with difficult parents will help you enjoy your kids and have a great school year!

3. Manage your own emotions.

There's nothing quite so hurtful as being on the receiving end of negative communication when you are truly trying to do what is in the best interest of your students. But, reacting emotionally to hostile parents prevents you from maintaining the professional relationship needed to navigate difficult parent relationships. Remember, none of this is about you! The issues are coming from outside your control, so you need to stay in control of your emotions, so anger or sadness doesn't impact your responses. Stay pleasantly neutral, make the parent feel heard, and don't get emotionally involved with their process. I recommend having a friend or admin read (or edit!) your responses to ensure that the tone is neutral.

Related: Classroom Management: 3 Ways to Stay Calm and Consistent

4. Document. Document. Document.

Parents most often become difficult when they perceive that their child's needs aren't being met. To a parent, it can feel like a teacher doesn't care if they don't know what is going on. Starting a simple documentation log can help you gather data about what is going on with that child. This allows you to speak knowledgeably with the parent about classroom behavior, academic performance, and executive functioning (organization, homework completion, etc.) This handy log will also serve as documentation in the event that students OR parents start to make complaints or allegations about things that didn't happen. This will make you or break you. Document.

Teachers, are you dealing with difficult parents in your schools? Even with perfect classroom management and planning, you will encounter a students with parents that take issue with your teaching. These ideas and tips for dealing with difficult parents will help you enjoy your kids and have a great school year!

5. Involve administration.

If you have tried the strategies above, and a relationship is still difficult or hostile, involve administration. Make sure you have support at conferences and meetings and ask your admin to help you facilitate a solution to the problem. Often, when emotional parents are met with clear, professional boundaries, they feel more secure and calm down. This has the added benefit of informing your administration of the situation, and they can take more responsibility for communications, which is their job.


Difficult parents are always a challenge. They are a challenge you are going to face repeatedly. The best prevention is to be prepared, stay professional, and get support. Maintain your own emotional boundaries, and you can relax and enjoy your school year.


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