5 Tips on how to deal with Constant Complainers


Since 2001 I’ve been working with parents in a variety of ways and places, schools in the UK, English immersion school in Japan,  home-daycare and nannying in Texas, USA. No matter where I have been, or how likeable a teacher I try to be or perceive myself to be – there’s always ‘that one’. The one that is never satisfied, the one that thinks that I could be doing more, the one … I could go on, but I think you get where I am coming from. So how can you deal with these ‘constant complainers’, keep your sanity and Teacher’s Licence? Well, here are my top 5, tried and tested ways to getting you and those parents working as a team …


Tip #1 – Start with kindness, kill them with it, but in a genuine, caring way … 

As much as you want to screw up you face, stomp out of a meeting, bang your head against the wall, drop the ‘F Bomb’ … you can’t. We have to control our emotions, especially if they are showing lack of it. So show them kindness. We have an abundance of it, because let’s face it, we wouldn’t be in this profession if we didn’t. We care. We are kind. We are communicators.  Exude kindness, genuine kindness. As you walk to the meeting room, as much as they want to start ranting, talk to them about the weather, ask if they had a good day. Offer them a drink. Kindness, more often than not, disarms them and calms them. And don’t forget to smile – in a genuine way – not in that crazed way after a wet recess of dealing with 30 hyped up kids.


Tip #2 – Ask them what they perceive to be the problem and understand where they are coming from

I recall one family who believed their child was being ‘picked on’ constantly by another student. However, their child was actually instigating the altercations and not telling the entire timeline of events to his parents. I had documented the incidents and as much as I would have loved to flap that record in their face it would have only heightened emotions. Let’s face it no parent wants to be challenged with the cold hard truth. It just backs them further in the corner. They were, after all, coming from a place of concern and love for Little Billy – although be it a little ill-informed. So I asked them, ‘What is it that you are concerned about?‘. I sat and listened. Just listened. Then I replied, ‘So what I am hearing is that you are worried because …’. ‘Yes’, they replied. You see, at the end of the day as much as we think of them as ‘those parents’, they are still parents. They are concerned for their child’s welfare, development and self-esteem. Also maybe, just maybe, these parents didn’t like school and see this as their time to ‘get us’. Maybe, just maybe, that parent suffers with anxiety and it’s been projected on an area where s/he thinks s/he can control because everything else around her/him is falling apart. We just don’t know, but it is my opinion that behaviour and altercations never happen in a vacuum. It’s not always all about you or the issue being presented. 


Tip #3 – “Here’s what I know we can do, what do you think?”

I think it’s important to establish a team response to the parents’ perceived problem. Remember I’m talking to you about parents that complain often. Not the one’s that are turning up with genuine issues. So at this point, I like to give them at least two solutions that I know are manageable. So if they believe Little Billy is being picked on (most likely because Little Billy is going home and only telling his version of events) give them some options. Option 1, I could place their child in a different group. Option 2, I could jiggle a few children around so no-one is singled out (I had been considering moving my groups anyway). At this point, I feel you are jumping up and down in your seat wondering why I am giving the power to these parents to control my classroom management. I’m not. I’m controlling the options – notice how I never gave the option to remove the perceived perpetrator which I have the proof is not the perpetrator in my file. “Okay?”, but what if Little Billy’s parents come back at me and demand that Little Billy and the perceived perpetrator should NEVER NEVER EVER set eyes on each other again or be within 2 arms length of each other. Well, that leads me on to  …


Tip #4 – Never write a check you cannot cash

I used to work in a very small room with 8 students and 4 staff. So, if parents demanded of me that two students should never set eyes on each other or share the same oxygen – it was never going to happen. And I have had parents request that of me. Not that they shouldn’t share oxygen – but that the students shouldn’t interact at all. I can’t promise that, you can’t promise that and it’s not realistic, it’s unfair pressure on us and the students involved. So I am honest, ‘Unfortunately, I can’t promise you that, but what I can do is  …’. Then I document it and I have them see that I am documenting it. That way when they come back at me in a few days (which does happen) I can remind them what I agreed I could do. It’s vital as my husband always says, “Never write a check you cannot cash.” so never make a parent a promise you cannot keep. It will come back to bite you – hard. 


Tip #5 – “Look, Rome wasn’t built in a day, I need time.” 

A few years back I had a set of parents that literally stopped by 4 days after our meeting and said my methods were clearly not working. It had been 4 days. 4 DAYS. I sighed internally, sat them down and was honest with them. I need time. Because, my fellow teachers, we know that Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither is modifying a behaviour! Behaviour modification takes time and consistency.  My mistake was not giving them a time frame for me checking in with them. I should have made a plan to have a follow-up meeting (and documented this). That way the parents would have known that I was on the case and would be letting them know how it was going – rather than leaving it open-ended. 



Finally, two more points and I cannot emphasize these enough. Firstly document everything! This is your evidence of what is happening in your class, communication with staff and parents, how you intend to deal with it and agreed timescales. Secondly, and just as equally important, check your well-being. Dealing with these types of parents can be overwhelming and emotionally draining. Let your supervisor know what you are dealing with. Over the years, I have found support from my Principals – more so if I have been upfront and communicated clearly with them. They also like the fact that you have a plan in place. It shows you are capable and in control. It’s also forward planning just in case parents decide to go above you, which is always a possibility, but that my fellow teachers is a post for another day … 


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