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Mindset & Motivation, Podcast Articles   |   Mar 8, 2015

How to cope when a student’s parent just doesn’t like you

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

How to cope when a student’s parent just doesn’t like you

By Angela Watson

Are you feeling discouraged by a parent who seems impossible to please? You can develop a realistic, productive outlook on relationships with students’ parents. Learn how to maintain a professional and positive attitude and keep criticism from stealing your motivation.

This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.

So this week, we’re talking about how to cope when a parent of one of your students doesn’t like you. Now, I’m not talking about the parent who occasionally questions your teaching methodology or gives constructive feedback. I’m talking about that parent that you just can’t seem to please no matter what. The parent who shoots you an email on a daily basis about a problem, who finds fault in everything and is never satisfied, no matter how much you try to accommodate or compromise with them.

First off, I want you to know that this is not an unusual situation, and I wish I had known that at the beginning of my teaching career. It took me many years to come to terms with the fact that there will be some people in life that are just not going to like me or be happy with my work. Sometimes it’s a personality conflict, and sometimes the person has their own issues that they’re projecting onto others.

Almost every year, I had a parent who seemed determined to find fault with my performance, and I used to find it extremely demoralizing. I would beat myself up about it, thinking if only I was a better teacher, all the parents would like me. And that is not how the world works.

Not everyone is going to like you. That’s a completely unreasonable and unachievable goal. And I’m not even sure it’s one worth striving for — getting all your students’ parents to respect you as a professional, yes, but getting them all to like you? Not going to happen.

Almost every teacher has at least one parent every year who cusses them out, micromanages and constantly questions them, goes over their head to the principal about a minor issue, or disrespects them in a myriad of subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Be mentally prepared for that and don’t take it personally! This happens to almost about EVERY teacher, whether or not they tell the world about it. I promise you that.

How to cope when a student’s parent just doesn’t like you

I am friends with some of the best teachers in this country — people who give 110% for their kids and parents, true innovators who care deeply and go above and beyond in every area — and I still get tearful voicemail and Voxer messages from them after they’ve gotten a nasty parent email or were called into the principal’s office because a parent criticized them publicly for a tiny misunderstanding. This happens. Whenever you are dealing with other people, there are going to be miscommunications and not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye. It happens in every profession, in every social situation, and in every family.

So, don’t let these situations surprise you or throw you off your game. For the most part, it’s normal. Now, if you seem to be getting more than your fair share of complaints every school year, then it’s time to take a look at that, and get a colleague you trust to give you some honest feedback about why relationships with parents have been so tough for you and how you can improve. This is especially important if you’re getting the same complaints from multiple parents across multiple years — that’s a sign that you may need to either change something you’re doing, or change the way you’re communicating it to other people so they have a better understanding up front of what you’re doing and why.

However, for our purposes here in this episode about mentally coping with parents who don’t like you, I want to drive home the importance of accepting the fact that some parents are never going to be your fans so that you don’t get so discouraged that you stop trying to build a rapport with everyone else. Don’t punish all the other parents because one or two of them are impossible to please. You must choose not to let a handful of parents steal your joy and enthusiasm for teaching because there are many other families depending on you.

no-one-can-make-you-feel-inferior

Giving up on parent outreach because one or two parents are overly critical is like giving up on a lesson because one or two students are being disrespectful. You’ve got to keep your focus on the people who are appreciative of what you’re doing. Train yourself to notice and celebrate the kids and parents who are cooperative. Keep those thank-you notes and compliments running through your mind when you get discouraged. Remind yourself, I am making a difference. My efforts are important, and they are appreciated by many people whether they express that to me on a daily basis or not.

If you don’t make a conscious effort to focus on the positive interactions and accomplishments, you will become discouraged and bitter. And that is going to show through in your tone and body language when you’re talking with that parent.

Have you ever tried to approach someone with a perfectly innocent question and before you can even get your thought out, you see they’re giving you a crazy attitude? Arms crossed, defensive posture, raised eyebrows … and you can just tell from the tone of their voice that they are already mentally and emotionally shut down, completely unreceptive to whatever you’re going to say?

You can easily become that person after a string of negative interactions with a parent. We lie awake at night replaying the conversations over and over in our head and rehearsing all these things we wish we’d said and we’re determined to say next time. We tell the story about the conflict to all our friends, family members, and colleagues. We dwell on the negative interactions so much that all our future interactions with that parent are colored by it.

It’s almost impossible to be receptive or even neutral to the parent after constantly thinking and talking about all the ways she or he has made your life miserable. You can never rebuild the relationship as long as you’re harboring a negative, defensive attitude, and the parent is only going to find MORE fault with what you do.

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I’m speaking from experience here. Don’t let that root of bitterness form in your mind, my friend, because you’re the one who’s going to suffer. It’s your motivation level that’s going to crash. Don’t do that to yourself.

Tell yourself, I am not going to mentally replay that conversation over and over in my head. It’s in the past and I’m moving forward. I am choosing to start each day fresh.

Use that train of thought as a motivator so you have the energy to keep reaching out to your most challenging parents. You don’t give up on your students, and you can’t give up on their parents, either. You are the professional, you are capable of taking the high road even when they don’t, and even though it’s hard in the moment, you will feel so much better afterward when you don’t allow yourself to be dragged down by reacting to someone else’s issues.

You always want to look back at the end of the school year and know that you truly gave your all, and feel confident that any rifts in the relationship did not stem from a lack of effort on your part. Keep doing everything in your power to make all your students’ parents feel like an integral part of their kids’ learning process.

Stop replaying the negative interactions and stay focused on the parents who are appreciative. Recognize that conflicts with parents are very normal, and it’s okay if a parent doesn’t like you. Make it your goal to earn the RESPECT of all your students’ parents, and you do that by acting respectfully and with dignity. Take care of yourself. Don’t sacrifice your health and sanity over a parent you will probably never have to deal with again once summer comes. Be kind to unkind people — they need it the most.

Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.--Robert Brault Click To Tweet

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. In other words, take the high road. In my case, both parent and student categorically expressed dislike and yes, it’s ruining my motivation and overall disposition. Good thing though, at my age, you tend to just shake it off. I was very reactive when my supervisor told me for the second time what this particular parent said about me. Unfortunately, my supervisor wasn’t much help because in my opinion, her neutrality only made me the reason for the student’s performance. And like what the parent told her, “Then it’s not my daughter’s fault.” Thank you for this blog, Angela. I’m going to do my best to erase all this negativity and move on from here. More power!

  2. Today was the last day of school and I wish I had read this in October! However, regardless of when I read this, I’m glad that I have. I have stressed and worried and anguished over a parent conflict all year long. Even though I know I won’t please everyone, it’s still hard when I put my all into doing what’s best for their child and the situation and nothing is done. Thank you for writing this!

  3. Today was our last day of school. We had our awards day yesterday, and I always say – if you can get through an awards day with no tears shed and no parents upset with you, than your year has been a success! Ironically, one of my most challenging parents ended up very pleased with me. She even went so far as to post a positive comment on her Facebook page. I was flying high with that positive outcome, when I was about to let an offhand comment from a different parent completely burst my bubble. I LOVED her child. Yet I could always tell from this parent’s clipped tone, cool body language, and defensive emails, that no matter what I did, it was never going to be good enough. She had not liked me from the get-go. I knew this about her and I was about to let her rob my joy. Just like you said, I was replaying that one particular negative comment over and over in my head. I was giving something she said the power to control my thinking, my mood, and even my feelings toward the year as a whole. Thank you so much for this podcast! I am hearing that internal voice of rational thinking again. Thank you for reminding me that trying to please every parent all of the time is futile. But most importantly, thank you for putting into proper perspective how we should effectively filter parent criticism as a whole – weighing the amount of positive feedback versus negative feedback. I am ready to move forward!

  4. Thank you for this post. I had some difficult interactions with parents this year when I had thought I was being conscious of feelings in one case and proactive in identifying an area of academic struggle in another. In both cases the parents were not in agreement with my thoughts. It is difficult not to let those difficult interactions color your perception of the year. Thanks for the reminder to stay grounded and to stop replaying those negative conversations over and over.

  5. Excellent article. Keep writing such kind of information on your site.

    Im really impressed by your site.
    Hey there, You have performed a great job. I will certainly digg it and individually
    recommend to my friends. I’m sure they will be benefited from this website.

  6. One of my amazing teachers really need to hear this today – so thank you for sharing your very true and inspiring words. Hopefully she takes on board your advice. and I love the quote!

  7. Be aware that if you are overly defensive it is you that are the unkind one. You are dealing with other people’s children there is nothing that will be more important to them. Even if you don’t agree with their point of view be empathetic!

  8. Thank you, I listened today as I was thinking of several colleagues who let me know of things they don’t like and rarely a thank you for your efforts for our shared students.

  9. You can’t know how much I needed to read this right now. I’m currently sitting in my car crying and feeling like I made the worst career choice, because a parent is emailing me very nasty notes every day. We are now having a conference with the administration tomorrow, and I feel like the world is ending. I don’t yell at children, I don’t respond to them nastily. I’ve been trying to help every single one of them be successful, and this one parent is mad about everything I try to do.

    I’m still sad about it all, but I don’t feel like a useless, horrible teacher after reading this.

    Thank you so much.

    1. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Remember that in a few more months, this parent will be out of your life forever (and it could happen even sooner than that.) Don’t let this steal your confidence or enthusiasm. It’s almost over.

      1. Thank you so much. It is over now, and I’m going to save this article so I can read it whenever I’m feeling a little discouraged.

  10. I feel just like Rachel above. One set of parents is making my life hell, because they didn’t like the sub plans I left behind when I was gone to my Step-Mom’s funeral. My principal is not supporting me, and I’m ready to switch schools. Your advice is great, and I will try it, but right now I am still sad. It’s only October, and the end of the year is forever away. I don’t see how I can stick it out that long. What do you do if your principal screens all your emails and your lesson plans, as well as looks through your desk when you are gone? Yes, that’s what happened to me. You see why I want to leave!

  11. I have been teaching 12 years now and have dealt with difficult parents, but I made my peace with the fact that not everyone will like me. Eventually the problems go away. Yesterday however, I went to my boyfriend’s office building after work, called him down and burst into tears. I was angry, frustrated and mostly feeling helpless. I went through all the parent meetings in head, my teaching and I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong. What did I do to deserve parents that make me feel like I’m not good enough for their child. After crying, I went for a walk and started searching for websites on how to deal with parents – yours is by far the one who made me feel calmer. I didn’t feel the need to drink my sorrows away (okay…maybe I still had a shot! haha). But I wanted to say thank you. It was the dose of reality I needed. I’m a huge fan of telling new teachers to stop trying getting everyone to love you and earn their respect instead. I had forgotten that. So thank you! I will be sharing this with a few colleagues today.

  12. This was a great article. It gave me insight on how to deal with certain situations. I am currently encountering an issue with a parent who finds difficulty understanding that her daughter needs proper interventions. She went to the principal to complain about me when all I have done is show support and try to help my student achieve. I had modified for her and I just feel like why should I continue to do so if her parent is not supportive. I am worried that she will now go to complain again because of a comment I made about her making inconsistent progress.

  13. Hi Angela,

    I am glad I came across your article today, and I have a parent like this atm. Thanks for advising me to take the high road, because I know that will see me through no matter what.

  14. Hi Angela,

    Like so many of them said, I need this RIGHT NOW. 30 of my students and parents are great, but I have one to bring me down during this most difficulty distance learning time. Everything seem to be my problem. I spent a week with migraine headaches rereading the nasty emails.Luckily, my principal is very supportive and this is a major consolation.
    Today, I googled “What if a parent doesn’t like you?” and this article showed up.
    Your article made my day. Truly inspirational. I feel energized and confident that I can get through this phase. Thank you!

  15. Hi. Angela .
    I have a great reading on the way to work .
    Like what you have mentioned , “Stop replaying the negative interactions and stay focused on the parents who are appreciative. Recognize that conflicts with parents are very normal, and it’s okay if a parent doesn’t like you.”
    Thank you for the Heart warming tips . I’m so Glad I Google this “how to deal
    With parents who don’t like you “, and I’m so blessed to have a read of your article after 12 yrs teaching life .

  16. Hi Angela,

    I loved this article. Thank you for sharing it. We are in the middle of the COVID crisis and are still doing distance learning. So many parents are lashing out at teachers over minor things because they are stressed and cooped up with their kids and not coping well and the teachers are some of the only adults they’re interacting with or hearing from on a regular basis. Many of the parents need professional help right now and do not appear to be getting it. It’s so frustrating because we all know that this situation is not ideal and that kids do not learn best on screens. Teachers cannot control this situation or overturn state mandates, but we can give our best when we are with the kids by planning well and offering a supportive, safe presence. I’m feeling frustrated that this part of my work goes unacknowledged, as I too feel challenged by this pandemic and distance learning and am doing my best to cope. I want to be supportive to all parents, but I also need some boundaries with these highly stressed parents. Right now I am processing and mulling over an unkind email I received. Some of the criticism is actually constructive but the tone made me feel totally unseen as a person and it felt like this person had a lot bottled up and was taking it out on me. Fortunately, I have a supportive administrator, but this part of our job really challenges me.

  17. Thank you for this. I just had a really hard day with a parent and was definitely spiraling, and reading this was really necessary. Thank you.

  18. Hi, maybe part of this is because students don’t see most of what their teachers do firsthand, unless they live with someone who is a teacher. Explaining what you do every day to your students is most likely not going to work, and parents expect you to understand this. Think about it. When you were a kid, did you understand all of the work teachers had to do every day? Or did you think that they were just there to tell everyone what to do, make sure they did it, and teach a bunch of information that seemed pointless to you?

  19. Thank you for this post. I have never felt so worthless as I have this year in teaching. Many days I have asked why don’t parents see how much you put into this job? This advice has come a bit too late for me in my current role but these next few weeks will go a bit easier if I really try and focus on the pupils and parents that appreciate what I have done and am doing. Thank you.

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