Dealing With Parents Who Seem 'Difficult'

At some point in your programme, you will encounter, and have to deal with parents or caregivers who appear ‘difficult’.

The issues vary, but often include:

  • they are unhappy with the makeup or running of the programme and activities
  • or, their child is having problems with peers or staff in the programme and don’t feel you are managing it well
  • or, their child is causing some issues, but the parents are unwilling to address it
  • or, a mixture of all of them; something is just not right.

Whatever the issue is, you will need to tread carefully. Bear in mind the parent is a paying customer for your service. At the same time, you need to respectfully show you have the expertise to run the service and support their child.

Keep your cool
Nothing is achieved if both parties get heated. Progress is only made with calm dialogue and making sure you are both heard and understood.

Build the parents trust
You may be familiar with their child, but the parent may not know you at all.
-Make a point of greeting the parent by name at drop-off and pick up.
-Touch base with them to let them know how their child's day has gone.


Show you care
Parents have entrusted their child to your care, and paid for the privilege of doing so. Have an open door policy where parents can talk with you about any concerns they have.

Show empathy
The words, “I'm sorry that happened” are very effective. A phrase like this shows concern for the wellbeing of everyone involved. It also provides an opportunity to develop rapport with the other person.
Try not to be defensive, but consider things from the parents perspective. Ask lots of questions to clarify the issue.

Establish Your Authority
Be respectful, but confident. Look the person in the eye and use a low-volume, steady, calm voice. This can often diffuse a heated situation before regrettable words are spoken. You are experienced in running a great programme and working with lots of different kids; you can handle this and support the child and parents. Realise everyone makes mistakes, including you.

Use and show concrete examples
-Have the programme activities available for parents to view.
-If there is a behaviour concern that keeps coming up/needing to be dealt with, make a note of it. Then, if it needs to be addressed with parents, you have a record of the pattern.
-Make policies and procedure available for parents to view.

Have you had experiences of working with parents who were unhappy? What did you find worked? Comment below:

Cherise Pendergrast
A mum of 3 awesome boys, I was an Occupational Therapist, now training as a Nutritionist. I write content from a parent and health professional's perspective to encourage, enable, empower and inspire.