How To Handle An Angry Parent

It can be a nerve-racking experience.

Without warning, a parent appears in front of you. He (or she) is angry and wants answers. Right now.

Maybe he’s upset about a student picking on his son. Maybe he’s mad about how you handled his daughter’s recent misbehavior. Maybe it’s a homework issue, a test grade, or a misunderstanding about something you said to your class.

Whatever the reason, when confronted by an angry parent, your response should be the same.

Follow the seven steps below and you’ll be able to quickly calm angry parents, give them the answers their looking for, and turn them into lifelong fans.

Step 1: Just Listen

Your first step is to do nothing. Just listen. Don’t interrupt and don’t be in a hurry to jump in. Doing so will only make them angrier and more intent on making a big issue out of it. Respond only after they’ve gotten everything off their chest.

Step 2: Categorize

If the complaint is related to standardized teaching methods, curriculum, school policies, and other areas out of your control, then refer them to the principal without further comment.

If the complaint is in regard to your classroom management plan, homework policy, or classroom procedures, then politely explain why you do things the way you do. Without being defensive, educate them on how your program works to protect every student’s right to learn and enjoy school.

Be open, inviting, and personable, and they’ll walk away impressed with you and the way you run your classroom.

Note: Sending home a parent information packet during the first days of school will effectively eliminate most parent complaints.

If the complaint falls outside the first two categories, usually a behavior issue or incident, then proceed to step three.

Step 3: Empathize

Validate the parent’s feelings by telling them that you understand why they’re upset and why they feel the way they do. Keep in mind that just because something doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a very real concern to them.

Step 4: Take Responsibility

Whether or not you’re directly responsible for why the parent is angry is irrelevant. Take responsibility anyway. It’s the fastest way to diffuse their anger and is the right thing to do–for them and for you.

Simply say, “It’s my responsibility and I’m going to take care of it.”

Note: One of the keys to creating the teaching experience you really want is to take responsibility for everything that happens in your classroom. It can be both empowering and liberating. (For more on this, see Key #7 in the book, Dream Class.)

Step 5: Apologize

When you take responsibility, it’s only natural, and befitting, to apologize–even if you don’t entirely see things their way. You might say, “Hey, I’m sorry you had to come to me with this.” Or “Gosh, I’m really sorry this happened.”

Often, that’s all a parent wants to hear.

Step 6: Fix It

End your conversation by reiterating that you’re going to take care of the problem. But this time be specific. Say something like, “Rest assured, I’m going to see to it that Anthony doesn’t bother your daughter during reading time any longer.”

And then do it. Don’t let it wait. Fix the problem as soon as you’re able.

Step 7: Follow Up

After you’ve taken care of the problem, contact the parent to let them know. There is no reason to apologize again. And there is no need to go on and on. It’s over and time to move on.

Before ending the conversation, thank the parent for coming to you, and then ask them to contact you if they have any more concerns.

Note: The more inviting and accommodating you are to parents, the less they’ll complain, the less involved they’ll be in your beeswax, and the more they’ll want to support you.

Take Care Of Your Customers

It’s best to think of parents as your customers. If you take care of them, attend to their concerns, and make them happy, it benefits you and your business–which is to create the best learning environment for your students.

If, however, you greet their anger with some of your own, if you bristle, argue, or get defensive, then they’ll whisper about you to other parents and sully your reputation.

It doesn’t matter how off base you think they are, how rude they behave, or how badly you’d like to tell them to take a hike. You have the power to keep your cool, address their concerns with class, and turn their anger into enthusiastic support.

Thanks for reading.

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22 Responses to How To Handle An Angry Parent

  1. Jeff March 29, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Thanks for these helpful steps as a reminder of how we as teachers can stay calm. Your readers should also be aware that, if the parent is unable to remain calm, they should seek the help of another teacher, staff member, or administrator to witness, and try to cool down, the situation. I’ve been in instances where angry family members come out of the blue, are physically intimidating and aggressive, and I have felt concerned for my own safety. Here the law is on the side of teachers: it is a misdemeanor in California to threaten a school employee such as teachers.

    • Michael Linsin March 30, 2011 at 6:50 am #

      Thanks Jeff! Great advice.

      Michael

  2. Lilia May 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Michael,
    Thank you for your invaluable help.
    I’ve been reading your posts since last year Before school year started ( in February, in Brazil) I set a goal I wanted to achieve this semester : find a way to get students to listen to me right away. Put some of your ideas to work, struggling some times, but aware that I ‘ve got to find a way to enjoy teaching ( I do!) without getting worn out by the end of the day.
    I was really glad though when I realized that for some reason I knew how talk to parents. Your tips came just to reassure I ‘m in the right track. It was good to read that from a specialist. 😀
    Thank you.

    • Michael Linsin May 11, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      You’re welcome, Lilia!

      :)Michael

  3. Alaa August 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Thanks a lot for your posts,
    but I have a question about those parents who accuse you of being racist.

    I once forced a sequence over a student,,,,,, and the very next day his mom was in school complaining about that. She was convinced that her son did something wrong but she believed I punished her son just because he was a minority.
    So her idea of the solution was like this: “If my son does something wrong, let the principle phone his father and he( the father ) will talk to my son.”

    How can I convince this mother that I force consequences equally over students, or that I can’t get the principle or the parent involved that way in my classroom management.

    ((Actually this happened twice for 2 different students in different years))

    The problem is, that when that happened my class turned from what I used to call “ideal class” to a “bad class”. The bad behavior that was shown by one student and should have stopped by the time I forced a consequence – which by the way was a time-out after a warning–, is now shown by multiple students………… I lost privilege and I don’t know how to get it back.

    I need an advice for dealing with those students since we are getting back to school soon.

    • Michael Linsin August 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      Hi Alaa,

      Just be honest. And again, just stick to the facts. Stick with these and you can’t go wrong. You have rules and any student who breaks those rules is subject to a consequence. They are classroom rules and consequences and therefore you are the one who will enforce them and contact the parent. If any parent would like to take issue with this standard procedure, then they should take it up with the principal. It’s out of your hands. As for how to convince a parent of this or that, as long as you know you’re enforcing your rules fairly, then you don’t have to convince them of anything.

      Michael

  4. Robert Bacal December 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    I particularly like the “Categorize” idea, since dealing with an angry parent when it really isn’t “your” problem to solve, because you can’t ends up as a bit of a waste of time. To add to this, when referring to the principal, it’s important not to appear to be “passing the buck”, because that causes the parent’s anger to escalate more. Best to actually help the parent get in touch with the principal, or whoever they need to talk to, to make it easier, and also to prepare the next person to deal with the parent for the interaction.

    If you can set things up so the parent doesn’t have to explain things from scratch to the principal, that’s good. There’s more explanation of the “referral” technique in my book, Building Bridges Between Home And School: The Educator’s/Teacher’s Guide To Dealing With Emotional And Upset Parents. http://parents-teachers.com/books/synopsis.shtml

  5. Christine April 13, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    I have knots in my stomach thinking about how confrontational a parent I am to meet tomorrow morning will be. She has yelled at me over the phone questioning my abilities. I’ve never had any parent complaints. Her daughter can do no wrong, and she finds anything to attack! I am not a confrontational person, so this is bothering me to the point that I’m losing sleep. Any other words of advice? She is upset over her daughter moving her behavior clip down.

    • Michael Linsin April 14, 2014 at 6:56 am #

      Hi Christine,

      Be pleasant and stick to the facts. Don’t advise her on what to do or how to handle the information you’re giving her. Just tell her like it is. Smile. You’ll do fine.

      Michael

  6. Fatty April 17, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    Parents complaining of wrongly marked home work,teacher fluency.how can it be handle.

    • Michael Linsin April 17, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      In response to parent complaints, you can’t go wrong if you’re understanding and truthful and you stick to the facts.

      Michael

  7. slgsk September 21, 2014 at 1:55 am #

    great post lovely writing

  8. Joe January 16, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

    The problem is that often administrators are the only school staff able to deal with some problems and many administrators don’t do sh*t. Teachers try and they might but without support it is bad.

  9. Hayleigh Alexander August 2, 2015 at 5:28 am #

    I’m so glad that there is some guidance for handling difficult parents . I have a parent that is never happy with anything I ve done to support her and her son with his learning difficulties. She does not trust me , this maybe due to its my first year of teaching and my confidence is not very high and she can see that. So she is taking out her frustration out on me about her son. She wants constant input which I try give her almost everyday . We have had 4 meetings since January and the principal and i have given her advice and support but this is still not enough. I just don’t know what to do? I feel exhausted and it’s affecting me so much I don’t know even want to go to work.. everything I’ve said or done has fallen on deaf ears or goes unnoticed. .please help.

    • Michael Linsin August 2, 2015 at 10:30 am #

      Hi Hayleigh,

      My best quick advice is to just give the parent the facts. Tell the truth, explain how you’re addressing the learning problems in class, but then how the parent feels about it isn’t your concern. Focus on doing your job well and don’t worry about things you can’t control. I wouldn’t let it bother you one iota.

      Michael

  10. Amanda Smith January 30, 2016 at 7:40 am #

    i honestly think that it is disrespectful for a parent to tell you how to teach they probably don’t even know how you do teach. In my fifth grade class we are doing persuasive essays. I had told every student to write in their planners so their parents are aware. A parent wrote back in her sons planner “I honestly think that it is rediculous that you expect my son to finish his essay in one night i am a single mother with six children we are dealing with sports and other problems in our household”. and I replied back to the parent ” thank you for your concerns i am aware that you have sports and children i have two children and a husband who is a fireman so he isn’t home two often my children do sports and we are always driving to and from Brantford because my son plays hockey and i didn’t expect your son to finish his essay in one night this is an at school project and an at home project we started to weeks ago and i have had to move your son around the classroom because he is off task wandering around talking to his friends”. and the day later the mother walks in through the front door of the school and she said to me i filed a report about your poor teaching you treat every student like they are your own children and you treat my son like he is a complete stranger(which i do not i treat every student with respect) so i tried to say something then the mother storms into the front office and asks to speak with the principal and she said you better take my son out of that lady’s classroom or i will go to the school board and sure enough that mother was on her way to the school board.

  11. Mary Ann February 6, 2016 at 10:23 am #

    As a woman, I find it very hard to have student’s full attention and trust (ages ranged from 20-30 years of age). I’ve noticed this when I returned to school on a full-time basis.
    Since we had several modules throughout each session, we had several teachers for each module.
    The students were very well-behaved with the male teachers, but totally disruptive and disrespectful towards the female authority figure. I’ve experienced this myself with my class. At first, I thought I may have done something wrong, but after what I have witnessed elsewhere, I realized it is more of a societal issue.

  12. Understanding February 8, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    THIS COMMENT IS FOR AMANDA: I understand that you were trying to give advice to the parent in a meaningful way. Being a parent myself from the outside looking in did you catch that she said that, ” i am a single mother with six children” and that she said, ” we are dealing with other problems in our household”. While you are married and your husband is often not home. When a single mother hears this, from their point of view. You still have someone who supports the foundation of your household as you both work as a team. The second thing I noticed of what she said was that they had “other problems in the household” This could mean financial, emotional, hardships that in her point of a view only a Single Mother could understand. I say this because I am a single mother who does not have any support and raising a child with special needs. I believe the parent first wanted you to show empathy and to listen. Also, maybe to call a meeting in with her (a face to face conversation) so that something could have been worked out. Sometimes giving assignments in advice might of been a great option or accomodation in this matter. The due date would of still been the same in the future, however, giving the child and parent a heads up of weekly assignments. Lastly, as a teacher I know it can be challenging dealing with parents, students, etc and sometimes to feel not appreciated. But as parents, sometimes they feel underappreciated too. Of which you can relate to both as your a mother and a teacher. Hope this helps.

  13. Christina April 29, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    I am school therapist and had my first encounter with an angry parent. She believed that I was rude to her when she wanted to schedule an appointment last week. I tried explaining that I had had a lot on my plate the day that she called, and normally I can take a lot of time explaining the services I offer, but on that particular day, I didn’t have a lot of time. She complained to the school board ( even though I am not a district employee) and would not listen to my apology.

  14. Soumajit September 21, 2016 at 9:16 am #

    I don’t know who are you but you changed my life

  15. Teresa Solis November 19, 2016 at 11:25 am #

    Hello all, thank you in advance for your support. I am devastated by the message I received yesterday from a parent. It’s the weekend, so I am waiting or respond until Monday…or should I at least let her know I received it and am “reflecting” on her words. Actually, I have lost sleep and feel terrible that a parent see me in this negative way. Before she came in to pick up her son, the class was in less than learning state, loud, out of seats, hurting words, yes, “chaos”. I had given a reminder of rule #3: students in their seats and not up without permission. Below is her email. Please advise.

    I searched the school for you today to discuss a very important matter. Let me refresh your memory, yesterday I picked up my son PR Jr around 330pm. For some reason you were fired up and mad at the students in the class. It was very inappropriate and unprofessional of you to talk at and down to my son the way you did. I am his mother and you do not need to fill any voids. When I arrived he quietly got up to pack up because he was leaving as he does everyday without any problems. You screamed at him to not get up and sit back down in his seat. You also stated i know your mother is here but I did not tell you to get up. KEA is not the military and my child should never be spoken to or treated this way. I had some words at the edge of my tongue for you when you made those disrespectful comments but I have morals and respect for even the 2nd graders. I didn’t want to embarrass or belittle you like you did my son for no reason in front of my kids or the 2nd graders. I don’t care how hard the day is or how busy the kids are, you are never to speak to them in that way! You seen his reaction as he started to cry because you insulted him. You then whispered and nodded your head i guess stating it would be ok but it wasnt and it still isnt. This is a formal complaint and I will make sure that it is well heard. I do not want my son treated any different than the rest of the students because of this either. Which is why I want to make sure the principle and vice principle are included in this email.

    • Michael Linsin November 19, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

      Hi Teresa,

      I would have to speak with you and know more about what happened in order to give you accurate advice. I do think, however, that it’s probably a good idea to meet with or speak to your principal before responding.

      Michael