When parents are dealing with the difficult challenges of raising a child with nuanced learning differences and all the things that come with IEPs and 504s, their ability to keep an open mind can be skewed and understandably so. There is so much to get your arms around when test results come in and you are suddenly thrown into the world of special education. Not every parent dealing with the stresses of a child with extra needs is automatically deemed difficult to work with. But school administrators working with difficult parents can tell you, working hard to work together is in the best interest of the child. Not working hard to work together makes everything that much more challenging.
It is easy to confuse words said out of fear with those words that are meant to personally attack; but, it happens all the time. No one wants to be told they are not doing a good job or are purposefully not putting in the effort to help a child with extra needs succeed in their education unfortunately, it happens all the time.
There are things school administrators working with difficult parents can do to help smooth feathers and create dialogue that is more amicable for all parties and help avoid litigation. If you are a school administrator reading this and thinking of one or two sets of parents who came to mind immediately, perhaps you should print this out and leave it on your desk for further review. Even if you are a school administrator who has never had to work with difficult parents, keep these tips in mind in case you do.
What School Administrators Working With Difficult Parents Need To Know About Fear
Fear is a powerful motivator. The plus side of being motivated out of fear is you tend to want to get a lot done to relieve the feelings associated with it. Anxiety mixed with mistrust creates an ugly concoction when dealing with parents who see themselves as “us” and school administrators as “them.” The tendency is to try and win. When talking about IEPs and 504s and what will be provided and when, the mindset of winning and losing creates roadblocks to compromises and lack of patience with the process. School administrators working with difficult parents know that parental patience is not part of the mix in these scenarios.
The first thing to keep in mind is to remain calm, no matter what is happening across the conference room table on or the phone. Getting yourself emotionally involved in a conversation that is going sideways is not going to help a parent in the throes of a full-blown fear-based meltdown and you reach a peaceable resolution.
The second point to remember is that 9 out of 10 times someone’s emotional reaction really has nothing to do with you personally. It is really about fear of the unknown or fear of things not working out the way they expect them to. Add in the fear of something negative happening to their child and you have a tenuous situation to begin with, never mind telling a difficult parent that things aren’t going to go exactly they way they want them to just because they insist on it.
Lastly, don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Now that we have overwhelmingly identified that difficult parents are created largely by fear, we can address it directly. When school administrators working with difficult parents reach stalemates in conversations, a wise question to ask is, “What are you afraid will happen if we don’t do it that way?,” or “Why are you convinced this way won’t work?” Allow them to talk through their fears, but keep the emphasis on the fear of the unknown, not just that they are being difficult to work with. Keeping the focus on the real issue will do you all a lot of good in getting through it. Experience will show you that butting heads hoping to break through the emotion usually if not always does little good.
Why Difficult Parents Tend To Become Litigious Quickly
If there is one thing that causes more difficult parents to reach for the phone and call the nearest special education attorney, it’s that they don’t feel heard. When parents perceive that you are ignoring their fears and not addressing their concerns, they are going to hire someone to make you pay attention. No one wants that. So there is only one thing to do; listen, and prove that you are by using some great feedback strategies.
You need to address their concerns, no matter how frivolous or out of touch with reality their concerns may seem. Ask them, “Why is this important to you?” Let them know you heard them, even if you don’t agree and are not going to do what they ask. Tell them why you are or are not going to meet their concerns and tell them what else you are going to do to address the issue in the meantime. They will at least know that you understand what is important and why. Try your best to have these conversations outside of email. You will go a lot further in a negotiation when someone can hear your tone of voice. In order to keep record of what was said and agreed to on the phone, send an email as recap and ask the parent whether or not they agree to the recap and allow them to make any corrections or additions they think are necessary. This way you have a record of the conversation and a record of any agreements or resolutions that were made. Speaking of records…
eCare Vault Helps School Administrators Do A Better Job In Working With Difficult Parents
There are always things you need to keep record of in dealing with difficult parents, or any parent working with your school system through the IEP and 504 process. When parents become difficult or even litigious, more is needed to ensure that your school administration has peace of mind in avoiding legal costs.
The old adage is true, “If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” This is especially true in dealing with parents who do not agree with your course of action in dealing with their child with extra needs. You must keep a record of every conversation, email, piece of paper, test, etc. But where does all of this information usually live in your daily life? All over the place. These important nuggets of information are on email servers, in file folders, stored on Google drives, and live in your mind. They are all over the place. Finding, faxing, filing, sharing, and emailing information becomes a mess to comb through and leaves schools wide open for litigation when information gets lost or even worse, not recorded.
eCare Vault is the first solution of its kind to help school administrators working with difficult parents find common ground, a place to keep track of everything, get immediate feedback, and in the cases where conversations get legal, provide an excellent resource for your school district’s attorney to get themselves up to speed quickly on what the situation is and how to handle it...in one place. No more digging through file folders, emails and scrawled notes. Find out more about how eCare Vault can help your school administrators come to peaceful resolution with difficult parents today.