Conflicts with Parents

Conflicts with Parents

There are a number of specific strategies to use when dealing with parents that will empower parents and diffuse a tense situation.

  • Recognize and acknowledge the problem. Often, we tend to ignore problems until they reach a crisis point. For example, when a parent gets into the habit of picking up their child late from child care, we need to address it before it crosses our comfort zone; otherwise we might handle the situation rashly or unprofessionally.


  • Seeking space. When a parent is intimidating or potentially aggressive, it’s a good idea to choose a space where teachers have a natural advantage; advantage comes from a familiar environment and/or the proximity of support available there.


  • Being professional. Being professional has many faces to it, but the most important is being respectful. Sometimes a parent has a demand that you can’t satisfy. For example, sometimes a parent has an issue with another child or family in the program and wants you to disenroll that child. In this case, you acknowledge their concerns and explain how decisions like this are made in your program. You can be respectful and firm about your policies at the same time.


  • Creating equality. Unfortunately, parents often treat early childhood professionals disrespectfully and try to dominate the situation. When you maintain eye contact and show respect and confidence, you are creating a feeling of equality, which the parent will come to recognize. This is a good strategy to use when working with parents who like to argue over myriad minor issues as a way of exerting control.


  • Avoiding blame. When dealing with parents who are upset, it’s important to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings. This strategy helps teachers identify parent’s fears, as well as their real concerns hidden under their angry outbursts. Once you figure out the problem, you can name it and then determine how to resolve it.


  • Staying focused on the problem. The willingness to solve the problem is very crucial. Sometimes, a parent is uncomfortable bringing up issues. But teachers might be able to recognize those. Unaddressed concerns and issues, however minor they are, can result in real pain later.


As early childhood educators, we usually see ourselves as nurturing, kind people and generally don’t like confrontations. To stay in our comfort zone, we might avoid situations that need to be addressed. Avoiding situations that demand our attention can make us less effective in our jobs and ultimately impacts the quality of our relationships with others and the quality of our program. Learning how to handle our emotions and address the needs of parents who come to us for help is one way that we demonstrate our professionalism and commitment to the children we serve.


From Stepping Out of our Comfort Zone by Madhavi Sudarsana. Exchange Magazine, March/April 2010