Whatever your field of expertise, if you work with children, you’ll necessarily have to interact with their parents. And that interaction won’t always be positive. You may not have control over how and when an angry parent approaches you with a concern (see Part 1), but you always have a choice when it comes to your response. When you choose to remain calm and exemplify professionalism, you’ll be well on your way to an amicable resolution. Add validation by showing empathy and listening, and you’ll be taking more strides in that direction. But then what? Well, we’re glad you asked.
Reflect: Prepare for a Productive Next Step
Hopefully, you were able to keep your cool and respond with empathy during the initial confrontation. Ideally, you were also able to discuss the issue in private and record the basics, when you were not upset yourself.
Going forward, here are some principles to keep in view. First, avoid becoming defensive; instead, do your part to keep the conversation positive — about yourself, your studio and staff, the parent, and the child. Defensiveness will only fuel the flame; your goal is to diffuse the situation. Before you meet again, do your part to find out the facts and try to listen to others involved in an unbiased manner: you’re gathering facts, not taking sides.
Part of this process may involve talking with other instructors or directors who have faced similar problems and experienced success in getting past them. Those anecdotes could prove helpful to share with parents, especially if their child’s behavior has been addressed. Everyone likes to know they’re not alone and that their child is not the only one who struggles.
Regroup: Actively Listening
Instead of waiting for a parent to remind you about the issue, you need to take the initiative. Whatever communication method you choose (phone, handwritten note, e-mail, text message) for setting up your next meeting, make sure that the wording of your communication is non-judgmental and the meeting itself involves in-person interaction; it’s much easier to use active listening techniques and respond to non-verbal cues that way. You can start by rephrasing the parent’s concerns in your own words and asking if you understand the situation correctly. As the parent expresses further frustration or shares additional details, be sure to validate their concerns and let them know you’re listening.
Only after you’ve reflected and reviewed the parent’s concerns should you consider expressing your own point of view. As we discussed in Part 1 though, always be sure to avoid defensiveness and communicate in a calm manner. As long as you have those concepts down, you’re ready for the next step: reevaluating and expressing your perspective. Continue reading with Part 3.