Here are four common difficult parent types:
These parents are over-engaged, feel the need to control their child’s life down to the most minute detail, are often worriers and may take up an inordinate amount of your time with phone calls, emails and in-person visits wanting to discuss any issues or problems they perceive as needing to be solved. Of course, parents should always feel free to contact you to discuss their child’s musical progress, but you also have to manage dozens of other pupils and their parents!
There are two approaches here. If the parent’s concerns are legitimate, offer to work with them to come up with an action plan to address the student’s challenge(s). As part of this plan, suggest at-home actions that will support classroom activities and curriculum. You also need to somehow manage the level of communication between you and the parent. Propose a regular and reasonable schedule and have the parent agree to it. Suggest that you check in with the parent every two weeks to discuss the child’s progress and assure them you’ll reach out sooner if needed.
On the other hand, if the student is doing well in the program and progressing nicely, firmly but politely let the parent know this. Provide specific details to back this up and assure the parent that you will be in touch with them the moment any type of problem arises. You could also set up the same type of communication schedule with this parent, to manage the amount of interaction.
This parent is completely checked-out, isn’t involved with the boosters, doesn’t come to performances or reviews and truth be told, seems to not care about his or her child. Truly, it’s unlikely that the parent doesn’t care about the child’s performance. Unresponsive parents are probably overwhelmed by their other responsibilities, like multiple children, difficult careers, poor health or a host of other reasons. However, no matter the difficulties, parents simply must take some amount of responsibility for a child’s education.
With this type of parent, you’re probably leaving a lot of voice mails and composing emails. Offer your understanding to the parent and that you’ll do your best to accommodate their schedule, but impress the importance of parental involvement and support in the musical success of students. Let the parent know you aren’t placing blame on them and that you simply want them to be a part of the wonderful musical progression of the student.
This is the parent who knows more than you, no matter the topic. Whether it’s insisting her child is ready for more difficult music or should be first chair or is excelling on the French horn when you know he isn’t, this parent can be overwhelming. It often feels that this parent is putting his or her own ego first and does not have the child’s best interests in mind.
If this is the case, first, objectively listen to the parent’s input. Perhaps they know more about the child’s motivations and what will truly push them to reach their potential. But you should also explain that placing the student at a higher level than he/she is ready for could be counterproductive. It could cause the student to experience frustration and anxiety and may cause the student to abandon their love of music. Ultimately, you and the parent should strive to support the music student and it’s important to let the parent know this is your goal.
“It’s never my child’s fault”
Whether the child is not practicing, goofs off in class, is late to performances or any other issues, this parent will always find someone else to blame. This is because it’s much easier to blame others than admit their child has a problem. And when you do tie the problem to the child, this parent is likely to respond defensively.
To avoid this type of reaction, do your very best to keep a positive attitude and put the issue in perspective. Mention what the student is doing well and then bring up the particular area of concern you wish to discuss. Be prepared with an action plan to help the student improve and be sure to involve the parent in the solution. Offer actionable ways that the parent can support the child at home and positively communicate that working together as a team, you know the child can overcome the problem and succeed musically.
Communication is Key
While there are many types of parents out there, you’ll notice that the one constant in the solutions to managing them is communication. Be sure to never speak negatively about a parent in front of your student. Do your very best to stay positive, don’t lose your patience (easier said than done!) and remember that the goal here is to support your music students and help them develop a love of music.