You'll get to know a lot of different types of families during your teaching career, and they'll all have their own unique way of supporting their kids. The most challenging parents? The helicopter parents—the parents who hover over their children and scrutinize every grade their child brings home.
Most teachers want their students' parents to shower their kids with support, but an overbearing parent can hinder the success of a student. A study in the Journal of Child and Family Studiesfound that students who grew up with helicopter parents experienced more frequent school burnout and had a tougher time transitioning from school to the real world.
Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help bring these parents back down to earth.
Further Reading: 4 Communication Tools to Energize the Parent-Teacher Relationship
Listen to Their Concerns without Judgment
Most of the time, helicopter parents hover because they're concerned about their child's achievement and well-being. The best thing you can do is give them time and space to express their concerns and reiterate your confidence in the child's abilities. If the parent is worried about their child's test anxiety, for example, remind them of the steps you're taking to accommodate their child during testing. Keep the parent's good intentions in mind, and keep the lines of communication open—but not too open.
A colleague of mine made the mistake of letting parents call or text her any time. She quickly learned that helicopter parents aren't always good at respecting unwritten boundaries, so she made some changes to her communication policy the next school year. She also used a parenting communication app called Remind, which allows parents to communicate directly with teachers, but in a more manageable way. Adjusting the expectations around communication is key to balancing your own boundaries and the needs of active parents.
Redirect Their Need to Be Involved
Helicopter parents often have a difficult time allowing their children to be independent. Some parents and teachers have even updated the label to "lawnmower parents," because these parents mow down any obstacles standing in their kids' way instead of letting kids figure out their own solutions. When helicopter or lawnmower parents take over, USA Today notes, they block the student's path to adulthood.
To stop this unwanted behavior, try redirecting the parent's need to be involved in every aspect of their child's life. One way to do this is to encourage the parent to help their child more indirectly. When I was teaching fifth grade, for example, I encouraged one of the overenthusiastic parents to become part of the PTA. This particular parent was great at fundraising, and I knew their enthusiasm would be put to great use if they joined the organization. By giving this parent a new way to become involved in their child's education, I not only found a solution for the parent's need to be involved, but I also helped the child gain some independence by giving the parent something else to focus on.
Work Together to Find Practical Solutions
Helping helicopter parents organize and narrow down their concerns can help you prioritize issues and work together to address them. If a parent gives you a laundry list of worries, sit down with them and rate their concerns from most important to least important. Then go through the essential issues one by one and discuss practical solutions. When you take the time to go through this process, you show the parent that you're as invested in the child's success as they are. This process should help tame the parent's concerns.
Further Reading: 7 Tips for Teachers on Dealing with Difficult Parents
Landing the Helicopter
Hovering parents might be challenging, but they're usually only acting on their own anxieties. Whether they're determined to help their child reach honor roll or get into a good college or they fear that their child isn't getting the education they deserve, these parents usually have good intentions. By listening without judgment, working together to find practical solutions, and redirecting their energy into something more productive, these parents should be back on the right track in no time.