Reflecting on angry parents: A trip to the fracture clinic

So today I am taking my daughter to the fracture clinic to get her cast removed. She broke her radius about 5 weeks ago falling over in the playground. The problem is for the first 10 days we did not get an x-ray. I think one of the unmeasurable aspects of the constant reminders of our poor ailing NHS is that I find myself reluctant to use it unless it’s completely necessary. She was getting by and acting like it was a sprain. The school first aider had said it was a sprain and she could write etc.. it was only at a BBQ when a paramedic friend took a look that we hopped into the car and went straight to a&e.

The looks and quizzing from the staff were as excruciating as they were necessary. My daughter was happy enough (Shrek 3 was on the TV) but the guilt and anger was bubbling inside like a vindaloo the night before a job interview.

Wracked with guilt about my parental failure we made our way home. In the car, a small voice in my head reminded me “The school first aider said it was a sprain!” instantly i felt a wave of relief – it was not my fault it was the schools! they after all were the professionals, they had in loco parentis I’m just acting on their advice!

Unfortunately while my rider  was trying to provide a post-hoc rationalisation to make myself happy, my rational brain reminded me that I am responsible for my children and that it was unreasonable to blame a large institution for my ultimate failings.

This 30 seconds did give me a much greater understanding of how parents behave when they come into school to deal with issues. Our school has a very mixed cohort and sometimes our parents reflect that. If you’re moving into middle leadership or changing the context in which you lead here are my top tips for dealing with challenging parents:

  1. Meet face to face: Simply in my experience parents are always angrier and less rational when they are on the phone or in email. Face to face also allows you to get a feel for their reactions. Ideally get the child as well
  2. Weather the storm: The initial barrage via email can lead to strong emotions in response. DO NOT RESPOND STRAIGHT AWAY. Go find someone you trust/line manager to vent to then and a holding email informing them you will respond within 24 hrs once you have investigated.
  3. Listen to their concerns: Beneath all the anger and rhetoric is just a parent scared they are doing a bad job or angry that something has not worked out. I have never met a parent that had absolutely no reason to angry. Somewhere in there is a valid concern that can be addressed.
  4. Avoid apportioning blame: trying to unpick who said what and did what that lead to this mess is a waste of time and doesn’t fix the problem. I find it best to acknowledge that it was probably mistakes on all sides and try to move on.
  5. Be solution focused: It is so important to move the conversation onto the actions and the effect those will have on the student. this is true for both sanctions and support. In my experience parents tend to want to tell you their entire life story and you need to be active in moving the meeting on to prevent a ‘ground hog day’ occurring.
  6. Recap the actions: Drawing meetings to a close is one of the hardest things (see 5.) i have found that by recapping the actions and writing them down it signifies the end of the meeting to all involved. Often then i get the student to weigh in on their level of satisfaction (often by scaling)
  7. Get the hell out of dodge: Shake their hand and apologise that you have another meeting to go to or thank them for coming and then get them out that door!

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