How To Talk To Parents About Their Misbehaving Child

Many teachers, even seasoned veterans, have a fear of talking to parents about their child’s misbehavior.

Generally, they’re afraid of three things:

  1. The parent (or parents) will get angry and defensive.
  2. The parent will question their competence.
  3. The parent will complain and make demands.

These fears are well founded.

While discussing behavior, teachers tend to say things that rub parents the wrong way. And because the topic of conversation is their child, their beloved flesh and blood, parents respond by fighting back.

Their protective instinct kicks in, their emotions flare, and in an instant you find yourself backpedaling, apologizing, and explaining away your decisions and methods.

Or worse, you bristle at their angry tone, become defensive, and drive a wedge through the critical teacher-parent relationship.

Yikes! It’s a bad situation to be in.

It’s also avoidable. Regardless of who the parents are, or how bad (or good) their reputation is at your school, it’s possible to discuss behavior in a way that leaves them both supportive of you and eager to help their child improve.

Here’s how:

Be friendly.

It’s a mistake to be grave or overly serious when speaking to parents, which causes them to put up a wall of defense before you even get to the purpose of your meeting. Put them at ease from the beginning. Say hello, smile, and maintain a friendly attitude throughout the conversation.

Inform.

The sole purpose of talking to parents about behavior is to inform. That’s it. Keep your thoughts, opinions, and advice to yourself. Despite what you may think, sharing them isn’t helpful. If, however, you’re asked your opinion after the conference, then proceed cautiously.

Stick to the facts.

Tell the parent precisely what happened—or what has been happening—that prompted your call. Leave nothing out but add nothing more. Stick to only what you know to be true, leaving out any rumor, gossip, or innuendo.

Watch your tone.

A common mistake teachers make is that they affect an attitude of “so what are you gonna do about it” when speaking to parents. It’s almost as if they expect parents to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. You should have no such expectation.

Note: A core principle of Smart Classroom Management is to never take misbehavior personally. This should come through loud and clear when talking with parents.

Shoot straight.

You can and should say, “This is the behavior I’m seeing, and any behavior, like this, that interferes with learning is not allowed in this classroom.” Don’t hold back in this regard. Be a straight shooter. The plain, unvarnished truth is the most helpful and influential language you can use with parents.

Explain how you’re handling it.

After giving the facts of the incident/behavior, let the parent know how you’re taking care of the problem at school. Include what rule(s) the student broke and how he or she will be held accountable. Assure them that you’re doing your part to help turn the behavior around.

Note: Sending a classroom management packet home during the first week of school is an effective hedge against parents being surprised or angered during this step.

Be brief.

Your conversation with parents should last no more than five minutes. As soon as you finish explaining how you’re handling the misbehavior, say, “Thanks for your support. Call me or come see me if you have any questions.” Then hang up the phone or lead the parent to the classroom door.

Talk To Parents With Confidence

When you follow the guidelines above, you’ll discover that conversations with parents are nothing to fear.

You’ll leave them with little to get angry over, complain about, or be unsatisfied with. In fact, they’ll come away from your talk impressed with you and more willing than ever to support your classroom.

And the best part is your meeting will have impact.

Instead of the responsibility for misbehavior getting lost in the haze of the parent’s anger and dissatisfaction with you, which is typically what happens, it will now rest on the shoulders of the one person fully deserving of it:

The misbehaving child.

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30 Responses to How To Talk To Parents About Their Misbehaving Child

  1. Carol April 20, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Fabulous, thanks!

    • Michael Linsin April 21, 2013 at 7:08 am #

      You’re welcome, Carol!

      Michael

  2. Frank June 13, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Thank you, this helped me out in a time of need. Have a fantastic day

    • Michael Linsin June 13, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Great! You’re welcome, Frank!

      Michael

  3. ailyn ropa September 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Thank you very much. This really helps me in dealing with my difficult students. God bless.

    • Michael Linsin September 28, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      You’re welcome, Ailyn!

      Michael

  4. Courtney A March 9, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Thanks for this article, Michael. I agree with you that you need to be friendly, but very straight forward.

    My parent meetings go as follows

    1.) Inform parent(s) about misbehaviour. Explain that it interferes with learning.

    2.) Create a list of goals for the student in regards to misbehaviour. This is a great way to become a team and brainstorm solutions with the parent(s).

    3.) Sometimes I will have the student come in at this point. I will explain the behaviour and the goals for them to follow. I will ask for a commitment to these goals. I have found this step to be very effective as the parents also “chime in” and reiterate the goals and why they are important.

    🙂

    • Michael Linsin March 10, 2014 at 6:20 am #

      Hi Courtney,

      Sounds like an excellent plan! Thanks for sharing.

      :)Michael

  5. Elaine April 11, 2014 at 4:39 am #

    I am looking for some information to site to my child’s school about how to talk to parents – actually when/where. My child is constantly “blasted” in front of other parents, children, and in front of him. I would not want all my sins poured out in front of my peers and others. But, for some reason this is common practice at my child’s preschool. This is shaming to him. His behavior is WRONG and we are not making excuses, but it is difficult to discipline him at home when he is being so humliated in front of others and we disagree with that process.

    • Michael Linsin April 11, 2014 at 7:04 am #

      Hi Elaine,

      It’s best if you speak with the school’s principal about your concerns.

      Michael

  6. Lauren Usher July 27, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

    Hello Michael,

    Do you have any thoughts about parents that are very difficult to get a hold of (phone number is always changing, etc)? Or have you had any experience with parents who are unhelpful or tell you that their child can do whatever they want to? I have had a couple parents like this over the years and I am sure I will have a few more in the future.

    I teach in a very poor economic area. Most of the parents are great but sometimes I get parents like the ones described above.

    • Michael Linsin July 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

      Hi Lauren,

      To answer your first question, you have to find a way—which may entail calling family members or classmates until you’re able to locate the parent. It may entail waiting for them to drop their child off or pick them up. As for your second question, yes, definitely. I’ve spent over 20 years teaching in the environment you describe. If you talk to parents in a certain way (see above), it doesn’t affect you or your goals for their child. Remember, you aren’t calling them to solicit their help. You’re doing your job by providing information the parent has a right to know.

      Michael

  7. LIndsay August 24, 2015 at 6:18 am #

    Do you have any suggestions on how to talk to parents when they have concerns about the behavior of other students in their child’s class–how to reassure them and affirm to them that the student is being dealt with in the best way possible and that their child is safe?

    • Michael Linsin August 24, 2015 at 7:59 am #

      Hi Lindsay,

      Yes, it’s really important to explain exactly what you’re doing to curb the misbehavior, which may include how you’re handling a particular incident. Simple reassurance isn’t enough. This is a critical topic and one we’ll cover in detail in a future article.

      Michael

  8. LIndsay August 24, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Thanks- as a school counselor ,I am trying to best support my teachers with resources like this so that we can also keep confidential what needs to be. Much appreciated!

    • Michael Linsin August 25, 2015 at 7:04 am #

      You’re welcome, Lindsay!

      Michael

  9. Dawn September 4, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

    Thank you! I am a Montessori teacher and while I am generally well-spoken and have good “people skills”, my least favorite part of my work is addressing VERBALLY a concern I have about a child with that child’s parents.

    I am fond of emailing because I can sort out my thoughts and edit before sending, lol. Email is my comfort zone. But when there are concerns about a child’s behavior, development, etc., email is not an appropriate way to communicate. This must be done face to face or at least over the telephone.

    Your ideas are very do-able even for me!!

    • Michael Linsin September 5, 2015 at 7:15 am #

      Cool! Great to hear, Dawn!

      Michael

  10. unknown February 20, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    I have this one particular parent who is always interfering with how I run my class. She is practically ruining my self esteem to teach my class, and to top it all off she complains about everything. I just stepped in to take on the reign for the first teacher who moved. I am new to the school, but I know what I’m doing. My other parents gives me good praises about what I’m doing and that really boosts my motivation to do more for my students. What should I do? I am in crisis.

    • Michael Linsin February 20, 2016 at 7:27 pm #

      Hi Unknown,

      I’d have to know a lot more details about how the parent is interfering with your class before being able to offer reliable advice. For a situation so particular, the best I can offer is personal coaching (see menu bar).

      Michael

  11. janet August 21, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    Question: I teach prek-3(that is older)
    There is a parent who is also a co-worker who from day one has only shown to be a very unhappy, disrespectful, unkind and a bully person. When I brought my concern to my boss this person lied and turned the table on me. The saddest part is that my boss seemed to believe her. HELPi

    • Michael Linsin August 21, 2016 at 7:32 am #

      Hi Janet,

      My best advice is to be polite and honest in return, no matter how this person behaves, and concentrate on doing your job. If you do it well, if you do your best, you can be confident in knowing that it isn’t about you.

      Michael

  12. Dena Campbell October 24, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    I’m facing my first round of parent/teacher conferences. I teach ELA, Middle school, inner city. (I am returning to teaching after a 15-year hiatus.) On top of the “First-year jitters,” our school year got off to a rocky start. We began two weeks late due to construction. We hade no internet for the first two weeks. Due to a new grade reporting system that regularly crashes, progress reports were late and incorrect. I still don’t know how to access PR or Grade Cards to see what my students are making in their other classes.
    But, the bottom line is..how do I conduct a parent/teacher conference? I have asked the other two middle school teachers, and they were less than helpful. I asked the principal, and she also was less than helpful.

    Have you a resource that discusses step-by-step how to conduct a successful parent/teacher conference. I’ve looked around on the web, and I see bits and blurbs. I’m looking for concrete steps. I understand that conferences aren’t a bashing session or a review of the grade card – which can happen without a face-to-face meeting. I need steps, forms, etc.

    • Michael Linsin October 25, 2016 at 7:52 am #

      Hi Dena,

      It’s not something we’ve covered here on the website, but I’ll add it to the list of future topics. In the meantime, I know it sounds simple, but my best single piece of advice is to stick to the facts. Give parents an honest, non-judgemental picture of their child while keeping your opinion–as much as possible–to yourself.

      Michael

      • Dena Campbell October 26, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

        Thanks – I’ll stay tuned for more!

  13. Lee Ann November 17, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    Thank you for all of the wonderful insight and tools. One more thing for all of us to be reminded of, as much as our words and tones can play for or against us, body language can do the same.

    Our team met with a Mom recently about some of the concerns she had for her child. We’ve worked Mom over the years and it’s always been a great discussion until this round, one of her comments warrants mention at our next staff meeting.

    Her concern was regarding the professionalism of some of the staff. Her example, she noted as they were leaving one day a staff member saw her child, sighed loudly and rolled her eyes and quickly walked away.

    Poor communication choice, we will be working with our team to help them remember that actions sometimes do speak louder than words.

    • Michael Linsin November 17, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

      It’s my pleasure, Lee Ann. Thanks for sharing.

      Michael

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