How To Talk To Parents Who Just Don’t Care

Smart Classroom Management: How To Talk To Parents Who Just Don't CareFor the most part, it’s a misnomer.

99.9% of parents love their children.

They may have a misguided way of showing it.

They may not sign one bit of correspondence from the school.

They may be uninvolved, negligent, or worse.

They may be preoccupied trying to get their own life together.

But few don’t genuinely want what is best for their children.

The key to talking to parents who don’t appear to care is to speak to that part of them that really, really does.

Here’s how:

1. Make contact.

The first step is to doggedly pursue making personal contact. Most teachers will try the one or two phone numbers on file, but then give up and send an unreturned email instead.

You must go the extra mile.

You may have to call the company or organization they work for. You may have to call neighbors and cousins and friends of friends. You may have to wait and speak to whoever picks up their child after school.

Whatever it takes to get the parent on the phone is worth doing. It can even be life changing.

Most parents who are difficult to get ahold of are never actually contacted. So when you go out of your way to surprise them at work or through a neighbor they’re typically humbled and over-the-moon appreciative.

2. Treat them with royal respect.

The biggest key to tapping into that part of them that deeply cares about their child’s welfare is to speak to them as if they’ve been voted parent of the year.

Speak to them in the same manner you would a parent who cuts the crusts off the lunch bread and is front and center at every school event. Give them their dignity back.

This affectation of tone and expression is magic. Seldom have they been spoken to with such respect, and in response they’ll rise to meet the subtle call to be worthy of it.

3. Remind them of their responsibility.

Somewhere along the line many teachers have acquired the awful habit of intimating—or outright commanding—parents to do something in response to their call. Many even condescend to make suggestions.

But unless expressly asked, this oversteps your bounds. It puts parents on the defensive. It makes them feel an inch tall and all but guarantees that they won’t speak to their child about your issue.

The most effective approach is to start with something positive and then kindly relay the facts.

“I’m so happy to have your daughter in my class this year. She is outgoing and asks excellent questions. My concern is that she hasn’t been doing her homework . . .”

Be specific but maintain your respectful tone. Never allow your frustration to surface. Before hanging up, add the key line: “The reason I wanted to tell you personally is because I know you’d want to know.”

This is a gentle but powerful reminder of their responsibility. And it hits them directly in the heart. You can hear them sigh and melt on the other end of the line. Most will thank you profusely and request that you keep them posted.

It’s also a good idea to take the opportunity to invite them to your class or tell them about upcoming events.

A Profound Difference

Although it seems like a simple little thing, when you go out of your way to contact wayward parents in a non-judgmental way it almost always makes a profound difference.

They start asking their child about their day. They inquire about behavior and take an interest in homework. They become more responsible.

Combined with your faithful adherence to your classroom management plan, you’ll see a change in their child as sure as the leaves of fall.

The greatest reward, though, is the day they darken your doorway.

They’ll step in eyes wide, tentative and uncertain, at back-to-school night or to volunteer for a field trip.

But once you bound toward them with a smile and a handshake, once they get comfortable getting to know the other parents and children . . .

They’ll glow.

PS – This past week I wrote an article for The Guardian aimed at new teachers. I hope you’ll check it out.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving new-article updates in your email box every week.


17 Responses to How To Talk To Parents Who Just Don’t Care

  1. l mahoney October 11, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Thanks for always supplying us with pertinent information. Obviously, we as professionals are aware of our students needs, but going that extra step to help involve parents without accusing them of negligence can go a long way.

  2. Patty Bartlett October 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    Being a school bus driver I have had occasion to contact parents prior to writing their child up. Last week my superior was telling me to take a softer approach with the children. Immediately I thought softer approach is she kidding me. Well I tried it and told the kids that maybe I was a bit stern with them and I would try to lighten up with them and we could start fresh. Well I’m proud to say it worked. I was indicting them on everything they did. Now I realized that most definitly I was part of the problem. Now we are actually talking instead of yelling at each other!!!

  3. kim October 11, 2015 at 4:14 pm #

    I had a parent complain about me to my Assistant Principal. Instead of sloughing it off, she is one of “those” parents, I really looked at the incident from her point of view. The next day, at pick up, I apologized to her and reaffirmed that I want her child to be successful and that I wanted us to work together to insure that success. I could tell that she was shocked. I believe that no one has ever apologized to her before. Since that day, she smiles whenever she sees me. This is a woman who has adopted her nieces two young boys. Both boys have major behavior issues. I feel good knowing that she knows now that we are on the same side in this endeavor!

  4. SPoncia October 11, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    Great write up, although I do not agree with some of the suggested ways to contact a parent (work, neighbors, relatives). I would never recommend that a teacher call an employer other than in an emergency situation. As frustrating as this effort is, we have to put in the time and be diligent in our efforts. Too often now teachers rely on communication logs and emails and don’t simply pick up the phone or walk out to a car and speak directly with an adult. It makes a world of difference.

  5. Nainoa Kalama October 13, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

    I just want to say how grateful I am for your letters. It is a busy prep right now, I have parent’s emails to check, but I have to tell you that I still read the newsletter when it comes in. It reminds me of the things you shared in other letters and in your book. It also gives me vision for how to interact with my students and (as taught in this article) parents.

    Just want to thank you brother. You have helped me in my practice.

    • Michael Linsin October 13, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Nainoa. I’m so glad you find the articles helpful.


  6. Brad October 19, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    Nice article with wonderful advice.

  7. Meena February 16, 2016 at 2:00 am #

    Excellent article! Im going to try this again…. Thank you so much. Its simply great.

    • Michael Linsin February 16, 2016 at 7:53 am #

      It’s my pleasure, Meena. I’m glad you like the article.


  8. Sheila February 19, 2016 at 8:02 am #

    Enjoying all the articles on your site so much! How would you tactfully broach subjects of cleanliness (child coming to school in dirty clothes) and lunches (child sent with cold canned soup), in a way that preserves the dignity of the parent? Thanks.

    • Michael Linsin February 19, 2016 at 9:51 am #

      Hi Sheila,

      Kind and gentle honesty with a dose of understanding and an offer of help (from available community organizations or programs) is the best way to go. You may also want to speak to your school nurse and counselor 🙂


  9. Mark Eichenlaub March 29, 2016 at 6:26 am #

    Very interesting. Don’t any parents get upset being contacted at their place of employment in your experience?

    • Michael Linsin March 29, 2016 at 7:42 am #

      Hi Mark,

      It’s never happened to me in 25 years. Parents have a right to know, and it’s our duty to tell them. Having said that, I think we should first do what we can to contact them at home.


  10. Nainzeee June 13, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

    I read you article very carefully and appreciate your efforts that you put in this article.
    i loved to read the heading “Treat them with royal respect.”

    all we can see is to give them respect. some time some words of love can give you more benefits than other.

    thank you so much for this article . i am gona share this on my timeline

    • Michael Linsin June 13, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Nainzee. I’m glad you liked the article.


  11. Amy July 31, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    This is a great article. The only thing that I would be quite cautious of is contacting a neighbor or someone who is not a primary caregiver due to confidentiality concerns. 😊

  12. Dena September 10, 2016 at 10:33 pm #

    I returned to teaching middle school after a 15 year hiatus and we are off to an excellent start, due to implementing the Classroom Management Plan from Day 1. Here’s a concern I have about parents. I am not looking forward to PT conferences because I have been told by other teachers that several of our students have abusive parents. I’ve been told that, with certain students, If I send a note home, however innocuous it may be, they will “beat the sh** out of” the child. I’ve been told not to expect the note to be returned, or expect it to be forged. One teacher spoke to a parent at pick up and reported that “Johnny” hadn’t turned in Homework. Expletives were used by the parent to the student. These kinds of stories make me want to avoid parents and just handle things on my own in the classroom. What advice do you have in situations where the parents are clearly out of control? (I know I’m a mandated reporter, and I will report, but as of yet I have not personally witnessed abuse.) Thank you.

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