Strategies to Handle Difficult Parents

There are so many positive ways to reach out to parents and help them feel more involved in their child’s art experience at school.  Unfortunately, when problems arise, our interactions with parents can start off on the wrong foot. We all have stories to tell, and we all have those parents you see coming down the hallway and think to yourself: Oh boy. Here we go!



Very rarely have I encountered negative interactions with parents, but some of my favorites include a parent who wanted the child to re-make the clay piece because they didn’t like how it turned out, or the parent who insisted I buy poster shipping containers to send home student art so it didn’t get damaged, or even the parent who wanted a personal email the day clay or artwork was sent home. (I had 600 students!) Little things like this can really leave you wondering how to handle the interaction appropriately, while still going above and beyond doing the right thing as a professional art educator.


Here are some simple tips to help you manage those tough parent interactions like a pro:


1. Be Professional – Keep the emotion out of your response, speak slowly, don’t get defensive, and keep your sentences short and to the point. I like to use clarifying language and repeat back what they are saying.. such as…”So, what I am hearing you say, is you are looking for a solution to get the artwork home safely and undamaged in the future.”

2 Don’t Fly Solo –I also learned that it’s ok to include the principal on parent communications. This open communication will make it more likely for  your principal to back you if something gets out of hand. Principals would rather have a heads up about a situtation or be carbon copied on emails, than get an angry parent storming into their office with long story about the art teacher.

3. Stick to Your Principles – Logically explain the “whys” behind your decision. Often times parents aren’t in your shoes, and they just simply don’t understand what it’s like to teach art, how many schools you serve, or how low your budget is. Knowledge is power. You may need to “give in” on a particular situation and it’s ok. Admitting you were wrong goes a long way in relationship building, too!

4. Be Kind – The phrase “kill them with kindness” exists for a reason.  By starting out the conversation on a super friendly note, you will instantly put everyone at ease.  Parents will catch the vibe that you are a reasonable and decent person who is willing to work with them to come up with a solution that fits everyone best.

5.  If you don’t do anything wrong you will have nothing to hide – Always remember, someone is watching you all the time. Be professional, be ethical and give it 100 percent and the positive will always outweigh the negative.


How do you handle difficult parents? Any tips to add to the list? 
Share your story below in the comments section. 

(image source)

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Doug Lloyd


    Love your #4- Killing them with Kindness!  I try to live by that one!!_thanks.Doug

  • I agree, kill them with kindness (although sometimes that can be challenging!)  I would also add that you should let the dust settle before you respond, especially in an email.  Type out your reply and save it.  Proofread it in the morning when you have calmed down and can look at it with a fresh eye before sending.  Emails can be easily misinterpreted.

    • So true, Heather! No email or call is ever calm when you write it in the heat of the moment. A good reminder for us all!

  • erica

    There are just strange people you will have to deal with no matter what industry you work in! The thing I always try to remember is that no matter how different the parent and I are we SHOULD both have the same interest in mind, the child. I always try to remind them of that at the beginning of any conversation. Knowing that you both have their child’s best interest in mind is really healing for any problems that may arise!

    • So true, Erica! I love what you said about having the same interest in mind. That does always seem to help. 

  • Sshone

    When I meet with a parent I always have additional work packets that they can do with their child often targeting skill building. Sometimes the packets are returned. (This makes a world of difference for parent, child, and teacher.)  plus..the teacher is working with the parent to get their mutual goal reached.