How to Deal With The Parents
Have you ever had an angry parent scream in your face? Yep. We’ve all been there. If you work with children & adolescents, expect this to happen. And if you’re fist-pumping & thanking your lucky stars that you only work with adults, well guess what? It happens with that population, too. Yippee. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I wrote some of the best tips on how to approach this situation without ending up in the bathroom crying.
Look, I know that when parents are exploding in your office and going on about how messed up their child is, there is a little part of you that just wants to say
But you can’t. You just can’t. Try these tips instead.
♦Listen to them
At the end of the day, they just want to be heard, not ignored. So let them get it out. Yes, they may tell you that you’re not doing enough, and you need to tell their kids to listen to them, and blah blah blah, but just suck it up & listen. Demonstrate body language that shows you’re listening (make eye contact, nod your head, etc.) Once they’re done venting, acknowledge & validate their concerns and their feelings. Show them that you want to work with them, not against them. This will make your interactions in the future a bit easier. You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying, but you do have to listen.
♦Focus on their son/daughter
Parents will go on & on about their child’s problems, but before you know it, they’ll start talking about their own personal issues. Like their divorce, their job, their annoying mother-in-law, how they’re unlucky in love. But remember that they are not your client- their child is. If you act like their therapist, they will keep coming back to you with their own problems. If you need to, you can refer them to individual therapy (to someone else). Do your best to focus on how their concerns relate to your client, the son/daughter.
♦Don’t dwell on their insults
Angry parents can go overboard. When they say nasty things, you probably want to get sassy back like
But that won’t go over well. So don’t get sassy. It’s best to just not take what they say personally. Don’t get defensive. They’re probably just saying those things because they’re really upset, and they don’t know how to communicate. Maybe they’re overwhelmed. Maybe they feel like a failure as a parent and they’d rather blame everything on someone else. Maybe they feel hopeless about their child’s situation. Just try and access the emotions behind their words instead of getting into an argument.
♦Make an appointment with them if they’re waaaaay too emotional
Sometimes, parents are so emotional that there is no point in digging into the problem. If that’s the case, tell them you’d love to talk to them but they have to make an appointment. That way, you’re more prepared for their concerns & you’ve fit them into your busy schedule… and they’ll likely be calmer when they come back. But, as mentioned earlier, they’re not your client, so don’t do this on a regular basis.
♦Try and decode what they’re saying
As mentioned earlier, they don’t always know how to communicate what they really want to say. So it’s up to you to figure it out. For example, if they’re denying their child’s problem, maybe they’re really just confused & scared. So educate them, avoid blame, & remember to say positive things about the child, too.
♦Try & talk to the parent and son/daughter separately until things have calmed down
From my experience, it’s often a disaster when the son/daughter is present while the parent is ranting & yelling. I find that the parent tends to say hurtful things about the son/daughter & they end up arguing back & forth. This just gives the parent the opportunity to say, “See, they’re so disrespectful!” Seeing them together also gives them the opportunity to accuse you of taking sides. If they want to meet together, they can make an appointment for a family session. Again, that gives you time to prepare for the messiness to come. You want to involve the family and have sessions with them as one unit, but I recommend that you wait until things have smoothed over.
♦Model appropriate behavior
If you raise your voice, the parent will just raise theirs even louder (they like doing that). So speak calmly and softly. Be patient & compassionate. Don’t interrupt them. Show them respect, and they are more likely to do the same.
♦Embrace the parents
Yes, they can be a pain. But it’s good to get to know them. Maybe they’ll shed some light on what’s really going on at home. It’s good to get their side of the story as kids are not always honest or forthcoming. And take it as a positive thing that the parent is involved in their child’s treatment. A lot of parents just don’t care & don’t even bother meeting with the therapist at all.
So there you have it. Hopefully you feel a little better about dealing with “those” parents. Next time they’re going off and yelling at you, don’t think
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