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5 Easy Fixes for Dealing with Problem Parents

By Meghan Everette on October 9, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

First up, I will state that a loving parent who respects your role in their child's life is a treasured partner for a teacher to have. But sometimes we must partner with individuals who are less helper, more horror story. Whether the problem is absent or uninvolved parents, or parents with too much input, we still are charged with doing what is best for our students, and that includes establishing a parent-teacher relationship. Here are some easy ways to deal with five common parent personalities that have helped me survive (so far!).


Problem Parent 1: The HelicopterHelicopter Parent

Helicopter parents are those hovering types that are just waiting for the right time to swoop in and rescue their precious baby from your clutches. The helicopter parent keeps close tabs on the class, sometimes being a little too close for comfort.

The Fix: First, set ground rules early and repeat them often. As great as having an open door policy sounds, sometimes you do need to close that door. Set a schedule for parent helpers. Having parents come near the end of the day ensures that they cannot hang around after their task is completed, and scheduling them for the end of the week means a job can’t drag out onto subsequent days. Encourage small chores and independence in the classroom and at home. Above all, don’t cut the parent out of the loop. Most helicopter parents feel like they need to protect their child or that you won’t keep them informed, so you have to prove otherwise.



Problem Parent 2: The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All parent is the one correcting you at every turn. They question the curriculum, question the objectives, tell you how they do it at home, and basically tell you you’re wrong. This parent is also likely to back their child’s side of things because, clearly, you don’t know what you are talking about.

The Fix: Put your credentials out there. If you participate in professional development, tell your parents what you attended and why. If you have advanced degrees, make it known. You aren’t bragging; you are asserting yourself as an authority in your field. Teachers are trained professionals, so don’t let someone treat you as anything less. You will never win an argument with this parent, so don’t even try. Lay out information in a very straightforward and professional manner. Back up your statements with research-based best practices. Get the student to see how wonderful and knowledgeable you are, so they go home with tales of their super-genius teacher. When all else fails? Smile — don’t concede — but never get into an argument. You simply just won’t win.

Dealing with Problem Parents


Problem Parent 3: The Best Friend

The best friend is a parent more interested in being a pal to their child than a mentor. This parent wants their child happy, no matter what behavior or academic problems might happen as a result.

The Fix: First, make school a fun place for exploratory learning. A student used to a friend rather than a parent will respond better to driving their own learning. All students respond to a festive atmosphere like, for instance, fun experiments on Friday afternoons. For the best pal parent, this type of incentive helps them see the value in their child being in school and they are less likely to declare a "holiday." When talking to this parent, remember that they care about their child’s happiness and social calendar more than the academics. Talk about the child’s emotions before skills, and opportunities rather than consequences.


Problem Parent 4: The Demander

The demander takes your overloaded schedule to new heights. They want a copy of your objectives in writing. They want the entire unit’s homework ahead of time. They want you to pick out the book for their child. They want you to be available 24-7 no matter what. A Demanding ParentThe demander can also intimidate, making you feel they will go above your head with half-truths if you don’t bow to their will.

The Fix: Provide information overload for all your parents. Most demanders, as well as other parents, can be appeased when information is plentiful. You don’t have to give a detailed schedule of your day or a copy of your lesson plans, but you can keep an online calendar that you update as things change. You can print newsletters and offer them online or through email. Be proactive and ask to meet with your parents in the first quarter of school, laying out your agenda before the demander has a chance to propose one.

Also, make a list of non-negotiables. For example, you can be available by email, but not by phone at home. You will not answer calls after a certain time, but you will have an email blast each Thursday. You don’t have to share these with parents, but knowing where you draw the line ahead of time can help keep the demander from steamrolling over you.


An Absent ParentProblem Parent 5: The Absent Parent

The absent parent is just not there. It doesn’t really matter if the parent is working seven jobs, has other commitments, or simply is not invested in their child's education the way we would like them to be. The absent parent is unlikely to send back papers, will not sign daily conduct sheets, and will not meet for conferences.

The Fix: Appeal to the child, especially older children, and put the responsibility on them. I never accept, “Mom wouldn’t sign . . . ” I always tell the child to go to the parent with pen in hand. Offer small incentives for returned forms. Most students will pester their parent for a signature if they get something out of it too. Be flexible about meeting times, offering a variety of options. Make the classroom a welcoming place and let the parent know you aren’t placing blame on them, so they will want to visit. If the child loves you, they will get their parent to support you too.

At the end of the day, you are there for the child. No excuses can be made about home life, because you meet the child where they are and get them where they need to be. The child with no home help deserves your best, just like any other kid. Manage what you can in the classroom, show students the love you want for your own child, and remember why you are there. (Hint: it isn’t for the parents!)


Have a parent problem story? Share, vent, and leave ideas on how to deal.

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Comments (30)

I agree that the adjective, "problem," is cynical. This article could be flip-flopped to read, "Five Easy Fixes for Dealing with Problem Teachers." And as much as I admire good teachers, I have issues with the ones who cause problems in the classroom and life. You know the ones I mean:

o Those who demonstrate favoritism and neglect the rest of the class.
o The Manipulators who fail to notify parents of academic problems of student or students that s/he wants for her/his class musical, placing their own interests above those of their students'.
o Mr. or Ms. Popularity, who gives students undeserved high marks that trip them up later, or gives them low marks that are not discussed with the parents in a misguided attempt to keep those students out of trouble.
o The Drama Queen or King, who takes out personal problems on the students, terrorizing them with melodrama, threats and other unprofessional behavior.
o The Know-It-All - Yes, that type exists among teachers, too!

Parents have had to learn how to handle such teachers (and principals!) over the dozen or so years that each of their children are in school. Parents must advocate for their children when less-than-stellar teachers are in control of their lives. There are two sides to every story and situation, and the parent-teacher relationship is a two-way street and a parents and teachers must both work to avoid reaching a dead end.

While every teacher is a generalist and deals with multitudes of children of different ages, backgrounds, personalities and abilities, every parent is a specialist who knows her particular child better than anyone else. Sometimes those two concepts are a polar opposites and it takes wisdom and understanding on both sides to bring them together for the students' benefit.

I'm a parent, and I just happened to come across your article. I have tried not to be what teachers may call a "Problem Parent", but my daughter's teacher has made me feel that she thinks that I am. On two occasions, I have sent an email to her, only to be ignored. This seems completely unprofessional to me. Now I feel that I can't contact her with any questions that I might have about my child's academics, because she probably won't respond. I thought that parents and teachers were supposed to be partners in the child's education, but how can we work as partners when she won't communicate with me? Should I go over her head to her principal with my concerns? What is your opinion?

That's a tricky one. I will say that school email filters can be terrible. Have you asked her if she got your emails? You might try a handwritten note. Going to the principal is fine if you really feel like she's ignoring you, but try giving her the benefit of the doubt first. It would be totally unprofessional to ignore parent communication, so maybe there is a mistake? If email is all you have tried, I'd go handwritten and/or in person before going above their head. If that doesn't work, then yes, feel free to get the principal involved. If and when you do talk to the teacher or the principal, make sure you have specifics as to what your concerns are and what, if anything, you expect as a resolution. Just a general "I don't like...." or "She doesn't get..." can be hard to give answers to. If you say you do not understand or want something specific (for example, "Could you explain the homework policy please?") you are more likely to get an answer. If you already have a solution you'd like to see in mind, prepare that, but also be prepared if the teacher is unwilling or unable to accommodate it.

I really do think most teachers are trying their hardest for their students. I think most parents are too. :)

Hi. I am a parent and I hope I'm not one of these listed above (though I admit I very well may be). I am concerned about my child. My child seems to have some comprehension problems. Although I've always resisted the Learning Disability label (because I think every child is capable of learning, it just might take a greater amount of intervention and consume more of the teacher and parent's time) we've scheduled an SST to see if it is actually the case. This would not be the 1st SST we've had. The 1st time we relented because the school psychologist advised for us to wait and see. Last year, according to state tests our child was recommended to be retained. In the 4th grade now, our child's independent reading range remains low: anywhere from below 3rd to early 4th grade. My question is if your child is struggling with basic reading, writing and arithmetic what should I as a concerned parent do? I have sought out a tutor and while our child has made some progress through her our child still lags behind. One of the problems is that our child doesn't qualify for any of the supportive services offered by the school geared toward academic intervention. Lower scores are needed. Help. Please.
Concerned Dad

I'm sure you are not a bad parent to deal with. You sound like most parents - concerned about your child. It sounds like you've done the first steps that I'd recommend: you've talked with the psychologist, you've sought a tutor... those are the first steps.

If you really want some of those "extra" services at school, you will have to seek a label in most cases. It stinks, but that's typically the case. I, like you, tend to think all kids can learn and like to avoid labels when possible.

I would bet, based on your concern, that you've already made sure your child is actually paying attention and putting forth their full effort. That would go a long way, if not. Reading on a 3rd to early 4th grade level for a 4th grader is actually not that bad for the beginning of the year. Take a look at the kinds of questions they are missing and see if there is a theme: maybe inferencing or some of the more critical thinking skills are tripping your child up.

Get to know the standards. You should be able to get a list from your state of what exactly is required in each subject in each grade. Your district might have a specific order or method they teach these standards. Knowing exactly what is required of your child is important. It will help you pre-teach or prepare for what is coming up. Pre-teaching can be a whole lot more effective that reteaching for strugglers. Your teacher might be able to help with this, and I'm sure it would be well received if you aren't demanding, but just inquire where you can get the standards and a pacing guide. That will tell you what is being taught and when, so you can prepare. And by prepare, I don't mean cram it in your child's head, but activate some background knowledge, show them a movie or take them to a museum. Point out news articles that go along with the topic or just bring the math into your everyday life. All those little things add up and will just become routine and help "train the brain".

I'd go ahead with the testing. At least you will have that information, no matter what you do with it. Parents have many rights. Even if your child is "labeled" in some way, you have a right to deny services as well. If you feel like you aren't being heard, then maybe talk with the special ed teacher at your school and just list your concerns and what you want. They will be able to tell you what, legally, the school can provide you with and what some of your rights are as a parent. If they are unwilling or unable, you can probably find that information on your state education website or thought a local education agency. Finally, don't worry about the label. Really. Special education, or any special services, are what we would ideally have for every child. They make an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and help your child achieve specific goals in that academic plan. Not such a bad thing, right? And your child can always be released from those services at a future date if and when they are caught up.

It sounds like you are doing the right thing. The last thought is.... don't drill your child into the ground. You probably aren't, but I've seen it happen by well-meaning parents. If they really worked their hardest for 8 hours of school and through a tutor and/or homework...that's about all a 9 year old can do. Find something else they can excel at and build confidence in outside of school. (art? sports?) Traditional school isn't the only thing to be wonderful at, and I'm sure your child has other talents that should be celebrated too. :)

Good Luck!

Thanks so much Megan. We did sit down with the new psychologist at our SST meeting and she agrees with us to have him tested. Thanks for your response and recommendations. We will keep this response as a reference guide and source of encouragement whenever we feel like we're getting nowhere.

Aw, thanks! I'm glad it helped and I wish you the best. It's a leaning PROCESS and that can be hard to remember. All the best!

Excellent article. Basically describes many of the parent personalities I've encountered throughout my 16 years of teaching. I see no harm with the usage of the word 'problem parent' here...it's an appropriate term because it can definitely cause problems. Both parties involved need to be easy going and flexible and acknowledge each others 'points', 'needs' and try as hard as possible to remember that as a teacher we're there to support the child. Will forward this article to staff for sure.

Thanks so much! I appreciate hearing from someone with more experience that sees the same things. Yes, flexibility on both sides is important!

Ouch, this article was very hostile and off-putting, the words and especially the pictures. Is this how teachers view parents?! "Problem" is such a loaded and negative term. "Challenging" would convey your point without being so condescending. I came here to check out the book club, not so sure now that this is a welcoming place.

Sorry you felt this way. I think the other teacher commentors echo the sentiment that it is about working *with* parents and all of the teachers pictured are also parents.

Your article was spot on. As for preferring the term "challenging,'' if only that were merely the case... The parent who does not take the teacher's subtle hints becomes a problem for the teacher. We already are balancing enough -- children who want to talk nonstop, meetings, Common Core changes, technology that stops working, non-academic activities like parties, testing deadlines, etc. We need parents' support. Lucky me, I have so many caring parents who are NOT challenging, it makes dealing with the occasional "problem'' parent easy. I try to remember that all involved parents are doing their best at a job no one trained them for. I, however, was trained and keep being trained every moment some politician decides we're teaching a new way.

Thanks, Teacher Lady. I think you read it the way it was intended! You sound lucky to have a rare "problem" and I am lucky enough to be in the same boat this year. There have been years where it seemed it would never end, but I think that we always learn from those challenges, right? You are right, and I think I mentioned in the article as well, most parents just want the best for their child even if they aren't going about it in the most professional ways.

Thank you Scholastic for this informative article. I only wish I had read it 17 years ago when I started in education. Your suggestions were diplomatic and proactive. As for those that object to the "problem parent" title, Websters defines a problem as "something that is difficult to deal with". I can assure you that some of these parental 'types' ARE difficult to deal with. That is not to say that teachers do not want positive relationships with each parent, but sometimes their demands and expectations can be quite overwhelming. My first year of teaching, I had a helicopter parent that came in every day and unpacked her daughter's book bag, sharpened her pencils, and stood by her for the first hour of class. I did not know what to do. Considering the girl was 11, I found this behavior to be inappropriate and enabling. I finally had to (gently) discuss this issue with the parent. She became angry, complained to the principal, and demanded a conference. The principal was kind, but supported me. From then on out, the parent was hostile and unsupportive. I wanted to work with her, but that never happened. I still look back and think of how I could have done more. So, I consider that a problem. And I consider her a 'problem parent'.

Thanks, Michael. I think problems can be anything.... and certainly people who affect your job can be "problems". Thanks for the feedback. I think there are always those kids we wish we could go back and handle differently or maybe just try again. I certainly feel that way a lot!

Just a note about the "absent parent": I grew up with parents who felt school was MY JOB and they made a point to have NOTHING to do with it. They refused to sign forms, didn't pay for field trips, nor did they ever attend conferences or back to school night. The only time I recall my mother entering the school was to retrieve my brother who fell and got a cut that needed stitches.

If THAT is the type of parent a child has, your Fix could cause serious problems:

"Appeal to the child, especially older children, and put the responsibility on them. I never accept, “Mom wouldn’t sign . . . ” I always tell the child to go to the parent with pen in hand. Offer small incentives for returned forms. Most students will pester their parent for a signature if they get something out of it too."

Had I "pestered my parents" there likely would have been another hole in the wall the size of me (to match the one already there the size of my older brother.) By 4th grade I realized I had to get my older sister to forge signatures and secretly pay for field trips with gift money from relatives.

True story, but I still grew up to be a high honors student who went to a selective college. I am now a teacher who is very sensitive to the type of home life a child might have.

Well that's true in your case for sure. I guess I don't mean to pester the parent so much.... Your parents were doing you a service in that they put the responsibility on you. That's what I want for my kids too. I taught the last 7 years in a place that the parents had the ability to be apart of school, but refused. Not because they thought it was the job of the kid, but because they were either working several jobs or maybe in jail or maybe just didn't feel like it. It certainly wasn't to teach their child responsibility. Most (not all, but most) of the kids that come without things signed (like a behavior notice, for example) just simply didn't ask mom or they say mom was too busy, wouldn't, etc... when they didn't even ask in the first place. If I talk to a parent and they express their desire to put the job on the kid, then I would certainly honor that!

I think the content and advice is great, but I think it is wrong to call them, "problem parents." If we approach parents as a problem, we will not accomplish anything for the child.

Well I actually called them "nightmares" only to play on the Halloween-timing of the article, but my editor saw that as harsh as well. You are correct though.... approaching parents like they are a problem isn't good. Thanks.

It's only a word. With our already full day we don't need loving caring parents bring more work or "problems" into our day. We all know that parents are individuals and love their kids in their own way. not in a wrong way.

I like the article and I didn't perceive the word "problem" to be a negative comment about parents.

Thanks :) You got my meaning perfectly!

Thank you for this article. I am in the last few weeks of student teaching and the parents are the portion of the career that make me the most nervous. I have already seen how some of the parents are treating my mentor teacher (demanding that their child do less homework, that their child be able to go to recess (even through they didn't complete any of their homework), and sending back homework that was obviously done by the parent). I know that building positive relationships with the parents will be difficult, but immensely rewarding. Thank you for the advice.

Sure! It's kind of good that you get to have that experience without it being your responsibility at this point. That's what student teaching is all about! It's funny that you say she should send less homework.... I have a parent that is angry I'm not sending homework! (I send skills, information, etc... but not 'work')

It is rewarding. Remember why you wanted to teach: for the kids and because you love education. You aren't doing it for the parents anyway!

Nice pictures

It is good to read any article that helps you take a step back and view situations from a different angle. Thanks for the adivce.

"Problem parents"? I'm sure I've never read a "Dealing with a Problem Teacher" blog in the parent section of this website. I'm sure Scholastic can think of a more diplomatic way of describing the conflicts. We're looking for meaningful partnerships here, not how to dodge or "handle" a parent.

Great post! I love the pictures.

Thanks, Brian!

Thanks for the advice. I know most parents just want what is best for their kid, but sometimes they don't realize how it comes across to a teacher! You are so right about not winning an argument.

I do think most parents are trying and they just don't realize how they are coming across. :) Thanks.

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