Dealing with Difficult Parents
You’ve got parents you love! You’ve got parents you never hear from. Then there’s the rest of them. As the year slogs on, your well of patience dries up. Here’s some ideas to keep you going.
The Angry Parent
Let them talk themselves out.
When a parent approaches you in anger, your defenses go up. Naturally you want to defend yourself, but that gives the parent the fight they’re looking for.
If you allow the angry parent to rant that rant, they’ll run out of steam. They may even realize how inappropriate they’re being, although they won’t admit it to you.
None of this applies to an angry parent who is threatening you, being physically intimidating or violent. These parents should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
As an admissions counselor at a school that denied admission to 74% of its applicants, I handled calls from a lot of angry parents. They swore, they yelled, they said we were incompetent, and sometimes threw the most toddler-like fits. I’d stay silent, checking my email or doodling, and they’d talk themselves out. It was hard to do at first, but it kept working. With no one responding, they’d eventually start to answer themselves. They’d say something like, “I guess this isn’t going to change anything, huh?” A few times they even cried. An angry parent is hurt. An angry parent feels powerless. They lack control over the situation they are angry about. Once they get that anger out, you can move forward together.
The Unreasonable Parent
Refer them on to something or someone else.
The unreasonable parent asks too much of you. They don’t understand your job, and they think you don’t understand it either. Worse yet, they have no qualms telling you that.
Agree with them. I know, it sounds crazy! But they’ve already decided you’re incompetent, so they’ll never be satisfied. Pass them along. Tell them you aren’t the right person to do what they want, but you know someone who is.
Refer them to services where they can swim in information. Like a list of the best admissions blogs, or to NACAC, or start them on The Atlantic’s annual coverage of college admissions with this little gem of an article. If they want a person to talk to, send them my way. Tell them Jen at Inside Admissions Consulting would love to answer their questions.
The Rude Parent
Imagine Them on a Screen
The trickiest kind of person to deal with is the unexpectedly rude. They’re not angry. They’re not unreasonable. They’re just jerks.
They give backhanded compliments. They say small things to undermine you to other parents. They look down at you. It’s hard not to take it personally, especially when you’re working so hard to help their student. So imagine they’re not real.
I used to have trouble with parents like this. I thought they were snobby and I fantasized about ways I could put them in their place. Then a colleague told me to imagine they were on a television screen. So when I’d be face to face with a rude parent, that’s what I’d do. They were no longer someone insulting me; they would become entertaining reality-tv stars. It created just enough psychic distance to take the edge off.
When In Doubt, Reach Out
The college search can be an overwhelming process that turns normal people totally bonkers. With so much hindering on the decisions of 17 & 18-year-olds, It's no surprise some of us freak out!
If you or any of your parents have questions about finding, applying, and choosing a college education, please don't hesitate to contact me, Jen Partica, of Inside Admissions Consulting. That's what I'm here for. If I don't know the answer, I'll reach out to friends in my wide network of colleagues and find it for you.
If you've got advice you've got advice you'd like to add to this post, share it in the comments below.