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Are You a 'Difficult Parent'?


Q. I don't want to repeat the mistake that I see so many other parents making - being too passive and uninvolved - but on the other hand, I don't want to become a pest. What do some parents do that drive teachers crazy, and what do teachers really like to see in involved parents?


The teacher's lounge in any school is a lot like a baseball dugout or a newsroom: there's a lot of chatter going on. Teachers are only human, and if they have had negative experiences with a parent, they will talk about them with their colleagues. The last thing you and your children need is for you to get labeled as someone who is hard to work with, unreasonable, unpleasant and unfriendly.


Stacy DeBroff, parenting consultant and author (, defines these "difficult parents" that may help you recognize tendencies in yourself that you want to keep under control:


Complainer: Nothing seems to please this parent. She may call the teacher frequently with complaints, or drop into the classroom to gripe. Often, she has an exaggerated overreaction to what is really a minor problem.


Confrontational: This parent is always cruising for a fight. A problem is never her child's fault, or her fault: it's always someone else's, and she wants it fixed NOW.


Meddler: Perhaps due to insecurity or loneliness, a parent who micromanages her child's school experience, even to the point of doing the child's homework, projects and speeches, is actually telling both the child and the teacher that SHE can do it better than THEY can.


Needy. This mom or dad is childish and irresponsible - forgets to send the child's lunch, forgets to send permission slips, comes late to pick up the child and always has a sob story. A parent who leans too much on the teacher is not being respectful. It's supposed to be a partnership between equals.


Nowhere to Be Found. A ghost parent who never attends school functions, fails to return phone calls or respond to the teacher's notes, and doesn't show up for parent-teacher conferences, is also exhibiting disrespect and creating a lot tougher row to hoe for the child.


Over-achiever: The highly competitive mom or dad who is living vicariously through the son's or daughter's school career may put unfair pressure on a teacher to promote that child at the expense of others.


Over-committed: Everybody's busy these days, but some parents take on 'way more volunteer assignments in and out of school, and either do a poor job or complain and stress out about them so much that it makes it unpleasant for teachers, parents and students.


Over-reactor: The proverbial "kill a gnat with a brick" personality exaggerates problems that could be easily solved and turns them into giant catastrophes, probably out of a need for significance and excitement at the expense of the teacher's serenity.


Spy: gossips with other parents behind the teacher's back, and may report to parent group officials or the principal, making the teacher feel under attack.


On the other hand, here are some GOOD traits in parents that teachers value:


n       Reliable.

n       Keeps a promise.

n       Keeps a confidence.

n       Helpful.

n       Focused.

n       Honest.

n       Tactful.

n       Considerate of time and feelings.

n       Easy to reach by phone or note; returns calls; attends school events faithfully.

n       Humble and willing to do unprestigious "donkey work" offstage, whatever the teacher needs.



Homework: Perhaps the trait that bugs teachers the most is the dishonest parent, who believes his or her child can do no wrong. Learn about more problem parents, and how teachers are attempting to work with them, in the book, How to Handle Difficult Parents: A Teacher's Survival Guide, by Suzanne Capek Tingley.


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 15 2008


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