How have we, as a society, come to the place where parents need to be banned from schools for aggressive behaviour? We have seen parents banned from kids sporting events, banned from sports clubs or gatherings for many years due to their bad and sometimes appalling behaviour and so this shouldn’t really be surprising and yet it is.
We have probably all received our class lists for the next school year and have looked for ‘that kid’. Not because the student is particularly challenging but because they have ‘that parent’. You know the parent I am talking about. The one whose child never ever does or says the wrong thing. The parent who believes that punishment or punitive measures should be piled on for children to learn discipline, just not their child.
This parent actually needs our help. You see this parent has not yet learned how to process emotions in ways that are acceptable. When a parent perceives that their child is being singled out or attacked for any reason, their first response is anger. The anger though is a mask for what they are really feeling but don’t have the words for or, have never been taught how to process effectively. This doesn’t make their anger acceptable. Not at all. But it does give us a starting point to empathise and work with them differently.
As school communities we work at increasing the desired behaviours from our students. We work to teach them the emotional vocabulary that they need to be able to recognise, understand and regulate themselves and the truth is that parents need this education just as much, often times more.
When a parent is called into the school because of something that their child has done, they are immediately kicked into protection mode. Usually, that parent is the parent who is called in on more than one occasion, who has been called on the phone numerous times or who has been staying quiet about something that has been bothering them for a long time. By the time they get into the school they are all fired up and ready to take-out the people making the perceived threats. Walk a mile in their shoes. Their parenting road might be a really tough one.
So what do we do about this? First and foremost we need to establish a relationship with that parent at the very beginning of the school year. Call them in for a meeting to discuss their hopes and dreams for their child, their fears and concerns. Take notes. Listen. Talk with them about what you know as a professional in terms of the changes that you expect to see over the coming year, how there will be challenges but as the children grow and mature we will work together to guide them through the tough times. Let that parent know that you are, like them, in this for the best interest of their child. Build rapport and let them know that this year will be different.
Second, we encourage the desired behaviours and discourage the undesired. When they come in all guns blazing let them know, directly, that while you want to hear what they are concerned about you will not be giving them time or space until they have taken a moment to calm down. Ask them to take a seat in the office and then leave. Let your Principal or Leadership know what is happening and how you intend to handle this situation. If you allow yourself to be yelled at you are acknowledging, in silence, that you are OK with being yelled at. By walking away you are signalling to the parent that you will not tolerate their behaviour. Leave them for as long as they need and then, when you return ask if they feel calm enough to discuss their concerns. If they are not calm enough then make an appointment for them another time. No arguments, no negotiations. Either they are calm enough to talk or not.
When they are calm enough to talk keep in mind that their child is the apple of their eye and while they may be demonstrating anger, the emotion behind it is often fear, embarrassment or shame. Let them know that their child is learning how to ‘do school’ and that behaviour is a manifestation of an emotion and does not change the fact that this student is a complete and whole person. The behaviour is unacceptable. The child is not. Everyone wants the best for the child, let that drive your voice in the meeting. No blame, no anger, just the best interests of the child. The parent will see that and will work with and not against you.