For program leaders, such as Girl Scout* troop leaders or Youth Squad® leaders, you may have to deal with difficult parents. These are the type of parents who might minimize or don’t acknowledge your concerns. Furthermore, their choices or lack of action might interfere with the flow of troop activities. Whatever your case may be, there are a few important things to consider before taking action.
Before you approach a difficult parent regarding a complicated situation, it’s important to consider the case objectively. It’s easy to point fingers and blame someone for the problem at hand and ask for a quick fix. However, it’s important to think about whether or not your expectations for this parent are realistic and if there is a practical solution. Additionally, asking for an outside opinion such as a trusted friend or family member can help shine some perspective on the situation.
After you’ve carefully considered your dilemma, you will want to pick an effective communication strategy to ease the situation. While we can’t change who people are, we can take practical steps to improve communication with difficult parents and reduce our stress. Here are some ways to handle difficult parents so that you can focus on providing an enriching experience for your scouts:
1. Create a troop agreement
While you can distribute an agreement at any time, it’s best to deliver expectations from the very start. Create a troop agreement of behavioral expectations signed by all troop members and their parents – this shows that they agree to follow these rules. Never distribute a single troop agreement to a child and parent – everyone should know that they are being held to the same behavioral expectations as everyone else. Additionally, when creating this agreement, it’s important to emphasize that the rules are for the productivity of the group.
2. Always communicate in-person
Addressing problems via email, text, or call can lead to miscommunication. Talk in-person where both parties are 100% present without distractions. You are much more likely to make progress with in-person communication as opposed to virtual communication.
3. Ask for their suggestions
“That’s just her personality.” Maybe you’ve heard this or something similar to this when trying to communicate with a parent about a disruptive child. Instead of trying to change a child’s personality, it would be better to use that kind of response as an opportunity to work together to find solutions. Ask thoughtful questions such as “how would you go about handling X?” Be curious and genuine when asking these types of questions to maximize your chances of finding a solution together.
4. Implement a strike system
Let’s say you’re dealing with a repetitive problem such as late pick-ups or late dues. If you have talked it over with a difficult parent and the problem continues, it’s time to set more assertive boundaries. When a problem repeatedly disrupts the flow of the group and your time, implement a three-strike system for parents: the first strike is a talk, the second strike is a warning, and the third strike includes limiting a scout’s activities within the group. This shows parents that their actions can directly impact their scout’s participation in group activities.
Volunteer organizations that provide meaningful opportunities are meant to be an enriching experience for children and leaders, and it can be difficult to make strides if not everyone is on the same page. While you cannot change the personality of a difficult child or parent, you can take practical steps to improve communication and find solutions.
*youthsquad.makingfriends.com and MakingFriends®.com are not affiliated with, endorsed by or a licensee of Girl Scouts of the USA.
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