One type of situation that teachers, school leaders and office staff increasingly encounter involves bullying, badgering and aggression from parents. Teachers, like children, have a right to feel safe at school. Bullying and abusive behaviour transgresses this basic right.
Every staff member in a school needs to have some defensive skills to draw on when they feel uncomfortable with parents, or feel that they are being drawn into a situation that they don’t want to be in.
Here are some defensive strategies that may help when dealing with bullying behaviour from parents:
• Double up:
Get some help or call for a staff member to be present in an interview when you feel threatened or uncomfortable.
• Tactically withdraw:
“I’m sorry Mr. Jones but if you continue to yell we’ll adjourn the meeting. I’m concerned about your son’s welfare but you need to sit down and lower your voice if we are going to continue.” Know how to end a meeting early so that you can stay safe and also to avoid being railroaded down a track not of your making.
• Keep your answers brief:
Don’t give bullies or badgerers any verbal ammunition. Stick to school policy or give simple reasons rather than giving long drawn out responses.
• Take your time when pressured to act:
“I’ll get back to you about this once I’ve discussed it with my team.”
• Draw attention to your discomfort:
“I don’t feel comfortable talking to you right now. You are yelling and I don’t feel okay about that.”
• Bring their attention to the issue at hand, not the position they are taking:
“Mrs Jones we are here to help your son. Let’s look at the options……”
• Assert yourself:
Remain calm, make eye contact and use a firm voice to let the other person know you won’t back down. Bullies often step back when faced with someone who will stand up to them.
• Stick to school policy or procedure:
Some parents will want you to be a free agent for their child. In these cases your school’s policy can be your best ally so know the ‘party line’ and stick to it.
We all need to defend ourselves psychologically from time to time. Work out your own set of defensive strategies to use when you are put ‘under the pump’ by less than pleasant parents.
(This is an extract from PD Perspective 17. The full document together with a staff workshop is available for Parentingideas PLUS+ members)