Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Parent from Hell - Dealing With Difficult Swimming Parents




You know the type: overbearing,
overly competitive, unrealistic expectations of both their children and you as a swimming teacher.

Over the years I've had my fair share of experience
with parents, and the fact is, no matter how knowledgeable, fair, or kind you are to your swimming students, you can expect an irate parent or two to crop up.

Now as a parent I have a lot of sympathy for them; after all I am one and as a swimming teacher myself, I can pick the good ones from the duds. I had no second thoughts about complaining about my own children's swimming teachers if I thought the weren't putting in.

Conversely I have also had my battles with swim school management for wanting to fire poorly performing swim teachers. It is my experience that in most cases (though I have to admit not all) poorly performing swim teachers are an expression of poorly managed swim schools and if they would only get off their tails and educate both themselves and their teachers in both excellent teaching technique and good PR (and in some cases better pool maintenance) they would have an explosion in  both reputation as well as customers.

So in my view its not just as simple as witting off a dissatisfied or pushy parent as a visitation from another realm. The parent from Hell does exist but even Jesus had to deal with the Devil in a responsible manner (Matthew 4).

Dealing with parents is basically about good Public Relations. So here are a few tips you might find helpful when dealing with parents.

* The most important thing you can do to avoid the parent from hell, not to mention become a better swim teacher, is to form a relationship with the parents of your students.*

Get to know your parents - say hello to the parents not just the students and talk to them regularly about the progress of there children's swimming.

Get feed back from the parents - about how they think the child is enjoying the lesson. Don't ask them about the progress of their children, that's your job, but ask them about how they think their child is enjoying the lessons. The level of enjoyment is often the best indicator as to how well they are progressing.

* Be an active listener

When you talk to the parent, one of the most important things you can do is to listen actively.
Doing things like:

Repeat back to them what they have said using you own words and nod in acknowledgment so they know you have heard them

Maintain respectful eye contact that don't stare at them but don't let you eyes wonder all over the place either such action indicates lack of interest

* Don't interrupt:

Even if parents raise their voices or their stories are not fact-based, you should avoid interrupting. By interrupting a parent, you risk inflaming the situation.

* Don't get defensive:

Defending or justifying your action will only make the situation worse. You are either right or wrong or somewhere in between, an honest assessment of your actions is the best defence (sorry for the US readers this is the Australian spelling) you can ever have.

Just as an aside sometimes not defending yourself as I have outlined above, can mean that after the parent has vented on you the whole situation will blow over. Sometimes it's not even about you or the swimming lesson but about what is going on in the parents life.

If you have built a relationship with the parents of your students then you may be the only person that they feel they can vent on.

* Show empathy:

Respond to the parents concerns with statements like "I'm sorry that you feel your child has been treated unfairly / is not progressing fast enough". This will help the parent to understand his/her problem is being taken
seriously. They are likely to be calmer and more willing to find a solution.

* Clarify the problem

This is probably the most important part and can best be achieved by asking probing questions. This helps
both of you to focus on the problem (not personalities), stick to the facts, and avoid being caught up in extraneous issues.

* Offer a range of solutions:

A lot of times, parents just want their feelings to be heard and understood. If they want more, try to offer a range of solutions. This shows a willingness to work together to solve the problem. It's important to avoid making promises that you can't keep. Explain to them what you can and cannot do.

* Get closure

Ideally, you will have given the parent a number of options and agreed on a mutual course of action.

* Leave the parent with a closing action statement (e.g..'I'll get on to that now').

* Thank the parent for their interest (no matter how unpleasant the meeting).

* If follow-up is required, tell them when you will contact them ('I'll call you tomorrow'). This will leave the
parent feeling as though their complaint has been heard, and the your relationship will be strengthened.

*Leave the door open

There will be cases, however after this whole process where you will not be able to give the parent the response they are looking for. It is important in these circumstances that you leave the door open for the parent, e.g.. 'If there is ever anything else, please come to me'.

By doing this the parent will at least feel that his/her complaint has been taken seriously, and the teacher-parent relationship, however strained, will remain intact.

Not doing this could allow the problem to fester... and the parent could damage your reputation through word-of-mouth.

Finally learn from the experience and get better educated. The more you know and learn the less you will have a conflict.

There is one other thing that in the end may be necessary. Sometimes children and parent and teach are not a good match don't be so arrogant that you think you are the only person that can teach a student to swim. Sometimes you have to offer the parent another teacher.

Enjoy
Richard

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