What Do I Say When…

Not all parents are cooperative, enthusiastic partners. Some parents have misconceptions, fears, guilt, or denials which must be addressed before any steps can be taken in helping them help their child. Following are some examples of common parent agendas, and suggestions on what you can say.

  1. Parents deny their child has a problem.

Your response: ask parents to describe what their child does at home. What you perceive as a problem may not be the same behavior they think of as a problem. Help them understand how behaviors which they see as no problem at home could create a disturbance at school, nonstop energy, and a short attention span, for instance.

  1. Parents blame themselves. It’s easy for parents to take on responsibility for their child’s problems, especially if there doesn’t seem to be a definite physiological explanation for his problems.

Response: try to ease parents’ guilt by asking them questions like, “Could you have done more than other parents do?”; “Would anyone else have done a better job?”; “Did you purposefully go out of your way to hurt your child?”; and “Was your child always an angel?” Questions like these help parents realize that although they may not have done everything perfectly, nobody else would have either. What matters is that they tried their best, which is all anybody, including themselves, could ask of them.

  1. Parents blame you. “It’s not my child’s fault you don’t know how to teach!” It’s hard not to get defensive when parents hurl a comment like this at you, but your best strategy is to remain cool.

Response: acknowledge in a neutral manner what the parent is saying, for instance, “I’m sorry you don’t think I know how to teach.” Simply reflecting back what parents say helps them realize the unreasonableness of their remarks. It also leads them into lowering their defences, perhaps to the point where they can take some responsibility for their child’s problems. As well, it gives you an opportunity to turn the tables and say, “Do you have any ideas on how I can teach your son better?” This moves the conversation into more constructive problem-solving, rather than pinning blame on someone. If you find these strategies do not work, you may have to ask an impartial third party to handle the situation.

  1. Parents falling into the “I give up” syndrome. It is tough to raise a problem child. When parents don’t see any progress or they see their child getting worse, it’s natural for them to question whether all their efforts are worth it.

Response: let parents say what they want to say. Try not to tell them they are blowing things out of proportion or being pessimistic, because this may lead them into thinking you don’t understand their problems. It may also stop parents from telling you everything they want to. When they’re finished ask them to write down all the reasons they feel like giving up. Once they’re satisfied with their list, ask them to write down another list of all the good things they have in their lives. This is when it’s handy to have progress charts, samples of their child’s improved work, certificates, examples of how they effectively coped with their child’s misbehavior–anything concrete to help them see their positive steps. Discuss each accomplishment. This process will help parents come to a more realistic appraisal of themselves and their child.