A few days ago

To Special Education Teachers, how do you handle difficult parents?

Two of my students have extremely difficult parents.

Unfortunately, because the students are non-verbal, i have to occasionally write notes home to tell them things. It seems like no matter what i write, even if it’s simply “she had a great day,” they will find some way to complain about it.

I’ve been told by my supervisors and many of the other parents that i am an excellent teacher and that they are very impressed with how smoothly i run this difficult classroom.

These parents are extremely discouraging and even sometimes insulting. No matter how hard i try to let it go, it’s impossible not to take it a little personally.

How do you handle these negative comments?

Does anyone have a similar situation? How did you handle it?


Top 8 Answers
A few days ago

Favorite Answer

I am also a special education teacher, and dealing with difficult parents is something that we all have to face. For the past several years, I have been dealing with a mother who is completely off the charts. The worst part is, she refuses to allow her child to ride the bus, so we have to interact every morning when she drops him off (often late, so it disrupts the classroom) and when she picks him up (often late, so I have to entertain the child in the classroom while we wait, which makes it difficult for me to plan & prepare the next day’s activities, and also makes me late for meetings and appointments.) The real kicker is that she complained at the IEP meeting that I don’t write notes home frequently enough! I speak with her in person 10 times every week, and she still expects written notes at least 3 times a week. I do have communication notebooks, and I try to write a couple of quick lines to each parent, primarily focusing on the positive (your child accomplished this today, or he did this cute or funny thing today, or he enjoyed this activity.) I make an effort to communicate to the parents that I value their child as a person – he has a great sense of humor, he is very helpful, he works so hard, other students on campus love him because he has such a great smile, etc. But it is really difficult to find the time to do this – I have 10 students, and if I spend only 3 minutes writing a note to each one, that’s 30 minutes!

It can be hard not to take criticism and negativity personally, but you really do have to learn to let it go. I do tell my principal about the negative comments and interactions, so she has the background information and is prepared to back me up. I hope that you have supervisors who can do the same for you – it helps not only to vent a bit, but also to know that your direct supervisors appreciate your proficiency in the classroom as well as the stresses involved in dealing with the difficult parents.

And I also try my best to understand where the parents are coming from. I chose to be a special education teacher, and I knew going into the job that I would be teaching students who would present a different set of challenges. Other teachers on my campus never get scratched or bitten by their students, or have to clean up poopy pants, or any of a myriad of other stressful circumstances that occur regularly in my class. But that happens in our line of work. The parents of my students, though, didn’t choose to be a parent of a child with special needs. They don’t have the training, experience, or skills I have, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to respond to their children as if they were special education professionals. If we think we are stressed out at school, think about what life at home is like for the parents of some of our kids! How do you have a family life when one member of the family has behaviors that are so disruptive, or specialized needs that are so time-consuming? Often, on some level, parents are still mourning the fact that their child is always going to have a struggle, and that he or she will probably never have the life the parent once dreamed of. I try to have sympathy for the difficulties of the parents, and to excuse some of the anger that is mis-directed my way.

My best friend is also a special education teacher, and we often get together and exchange stories (guarding confidentiality, of course!) over a glass of wine. Sometimes telling the stories helps us see some humor, and in the end, humor helps put it all in perspective.

Good luck, and hang in there. Stay focused on the positive, try to understand where the negative might be coming from, and learn to let go of the parts that you can’t change.


A few days ago
Wow you must have had the same day that I had today dealing with parents.

For some of my parents I just don’t even do notes anymore. IF that want specific information I make a objective checklist or yes no sheet for specific target skills they want information on. Anything else is mis-construed. Soemtiems I make a copy of the daily schedule and just write in specific activities we did for like circle-, or art or reading what book we read just so the parents feel informed and xerox the same one for all parents

the is a huge shoratge of special education teachers and even a bigger shortage of good teachers. The only people who can remain are ones with super thick skins, nerves of steel and stomachs of iron. Sometimes the stress is so overwhelming i want to be a bra sales person at victoria secrets. But then I think about a certain child’s smile or success I had this week. YOu have to try to focus on the good things going on in yrou classroom and have other outlets for stress like mentioned above.

Be strong… and I will try too.


A few days ago
Maggie S
I was a special education teacher for 33 years working with multihandicapped students. Some students were medically fragile and others had a diagnosis of autism.

They were non verbal and severely involved. I understand your question totally. This is the most demanding part of your profession. Please do not take the parents behavior personally. Just realize that they are in a perennial state of grief and crisis. I am sure that your supervisors and administration are well aware of the battle you are fighting. They know that you are a good teacher. I have sat at meetings with parents who are hostile, had lawyers, trying to sue the school system etc. It is a part of the population you deal with. You know in your heart you are doing the best for the children and the parents. Just remember they are hurting. Do not get discouraged. I lasted 33 years by remembering to not take it personally. It is a noble thing you are doing. Just remember that.


5 years ago
special education teachers handle difficult parents

A few days ago
Above all things…you are to be commended for the field you’ve chosen…in a time when people are running away from kids, lady you’ve gone a step above and beyond…think about it…”maybe these people have yet to come to grips with their dilemma, stop a minute and know it’s more about them than about you…I know it’s hard to stand with your arms open and get a slap in the face…but…sweetie but it comes with the territory…some just won’t appreciate what you do and no matter if you turn cheetah flips you won’t change their minds because “they are miserable”

You will let it go… not because you understand but because you must….their negativity will some how get into you and bleed into the thing you love….take those hurts to the Lord in prayer….

You can’t control what people say…but you can control what you say to yourself….you know who you are…they don’t


A few days ago
Sounds to me like you are in an Option III classroom, since the students are non-communicative. I, too am a Sp.Ed. teacher, have been for the last 19 years so I know where you’re coming from here.

Really, about all you can do is to try to remember that those parents are under the same stresses as you when the kid gets home. I understand that you have them for much more of the day than they do and that you are, in fact, under much more stress from their activities, or lack thereof, but try to understand that they too feel the stress and someone has to be to blamed for things that go wrong. That’s you.

You don’t blame the kids or hold grudges for their hitting, biting, kicking or whatever other behaviors they exhibit so even though it is hard (God knows I understand…) try to just let it go when the parents are ugly, mean or hateful to you.

Best thing to do is to gather around you your best support group and vent to them and to them only. It may have to be someone in your family, since at my school venting is not allowed between teachers and staff, but you can find someone, somewhere, to talk to about your frustrations.

Get your validation from someone who knows what they are talking about; other teachers or administration, not from a parent. I know that you want/need the “Attaboy” or “Attagirl” from the parents but you are probably never going to get it so stop trying. It only hurts you more.

Second best; develop a hobby that lets you completely forget school and students for awhile every day or weekend at the very least.

For me, it’s fishing. I get in the boat and go to the middle of the lake and yell for a few minutes. Then I go on my way and fish in a nice quiet cove somewhere. Sometimes I can’t wait until the weekend and have to go after school. Yesterday was one of those days.

Also it is good to get some exercise, it will help release those tense muscles that are giving you fits too. (Been there, done that…)

Whatever it is you do find something that is relaxing, preferably a “mindless” activity that you can just float through without a lot of thought then let your mind wander. You will be amazed at the number of possible solutions you will find just by daydreaming.

Hang in there, you can make it to retirement!!!! ha ha ha

P.S. keep a strong sense of humor. You will be needing it! Myself I try to write everyday about something funny that happened at school. Try it, you may find it helps too!


A few days ago
I e-mail one parent once a day. She e-mails me up to about 5 a day. I save everything just in case. I try to call when I have nothing to say and ask her about how things are going. Yup, on my own time while I am driving or doing laundry.

My kids keep agendas and I write lots of notes daily and expect the parents to sign the book daily. That helps during a meeting when they tell me they weren’t informed.

Try and decide what kind of criticism, is it about the kid, about you as a person, about the lack/too much work you give their kids or are they just complainers needing someone to listen.


A few days ago
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It is hard not to take it negative. Your collegues are a better source of if you are doing a good job.

5 years ago
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