Classroom Management

Strategies to Handle Difficult Parents

There are so many positive ways to reach out to parents and help them feel more involved in their child’s art experience at school.  Unfortunately, when problems arise, our interactions with parents can start off on the wrong foot. We all have stories to tell, and we all have those parents you see coming down the hallway and think to yourself: Oh boy. Here we go!

image via
image via

Very rarely have I encountered negative interactions with parents, but some of my favorites include a parent who wanted the child to re-make the clay piece because they didn’t like how it turned out, or the parent who insisted I buy poster shipping containers to send home student art so it didn’t get damaged, or even the parent who wanted a personal email the day clay or artwork was sent home. (I had 600 students!) Little things like this can really leave you wondering how to handle the interaction appropriately, while still going above and beyond doing the right thing as a professional art educator.

Here are some simple tips to help you manage those tough parent interactions like a pro.

1. Be Professional

Keep the emotion out of your response, speak slowly, don’t get defensive, and keep your sentences short and to the point. I like to use clarifying language and repeat back what they are saying.. such as…”So, what I am hearing you say, is you are looking for a solution to get the artwork home safely and undamaged in the future.”

2. Don’t Fly Solo

I also learned that it’s ok to include the principal on parent communications. This open communication will make it more likely for  your principal to back you if something gets out of hand. Principals would rather have a heads up about a situtation or be carbon copied on emails, than get an angry parent storming into their office with long story about the art teacher.

3. Stick to Your Principles

Logically explain the “whys” behind your decision. Often times parents aren’t in your shoes, and they just simply don’t understand what it’s like to teach art, how many schools you serve, or how low your budget is. Knowledge is power. You may need to “give in” on a particular situation and it’s ok. Admitting you were wrong goes a long way in relationship building, too!

4. Be Kind

The phrase “kill them with kindness” exists for a reason.  By starting out the conversation on a super friendly note, you will instantly put everyone at ease.  Parents will catch the vibe that you are a reasonable and decent person who is willing to work with them to come up with a solution that fits everyone best.

5. If you don’t do anything wrong you will have nothing to hide.

Always remember, someone is watching you all the time. Be professional, be ethical and give it 100 percent and the positive will always outweigh the negative.

How do you handle difficult parents? Any tips to add to the list? 

Share your story below in the comments section. 

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Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is AOEU’s Founder and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

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