When you graduated with your degree in school counseling, it’s probably safe to assume that the tall task of building and maintaining parent relationships was not at the forefront of your hopes and dreams as a high school counselor. In reality, navigating communication with parents can be time-consuming, exhausting, and, at times, downright exasperating. In a single phone call, you can go from student advocate to customer service representative (who just got an unfair ear-full from a disgruntled customer).
While relationships can be messy, and there’s certainly no “one-size-fits-all” strategy for working with parents, here are some tips for handling parent relationships in your workplace as a high school counselor.
Build better parent relationships through proactive, frequent communication
Get ahead of snags in the parent-counselor relationship by being a better communicator on the front end of things. One of the most common parent complaints involves a parent feeling uninformed. Whether a parent missed a specific scholarship, parent information night, or sign-ups for individual meetings, I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of that “I’m disappointed I missed XYZ” email.
As managers of a range of information, develop a system for putting out information in multiple places. Make a list of all the places you’d like to blast out announcements. Make sure it is going to the same 10 places every time.
Yes, 10. And I’m not exaggerating. Here’s a list to get you started: school announcements, phone blasts home, social media (Facebook and Instagram), mass emails to parents and students, Google classroom, school website, school counseling website, marquee board at the front of the school, text message blasts to parents and students. See, that’s 10 places right there!
Once you have your system in place, and you still get the “I’m disappointed I missed XYZ” email,” resist the urge to snap a sassy email back; view this as an opportunity to train your parents where to look for important information.
When you over-communicate happenings, expectations, and important announcements on the front end, there is less disappointment, resentment, and mean-spirited emails and phone calls that come your way. Pro tip: If you’re not the person doing the formal communication, sync up with the responsible person to discuss your department’s communication strategy.
Be sure to also check out my TpT store to find dozens of resources specifically tailored to parent equipping like these post-secondary presentations that you can hold in-person or virtually for each grade level. There’s nothing wrong with getting on your parents’ good side by offering resources built to help their students succeed.
Invite feedback into your parent relationships to minimize blind spots
Send out a survey mid-year or at the end of the school year to get a pulse on parent wins, as well as pain points. You may discover that your parents aren’t informed or connected in the ways you expected and you need to revamp your PR strategy. You may learn that parents need more education on your role and the services you provide. A survey can also help you identify promising candidates for your school counseling advisory council (listen to podcast episode 17 and episode 18 to discover who should be on your advisory council team and why).
Fair warning here: a survey may also be an avenue for parents to tear you down from behind a computer screen. Take these responses as an opportunity to learn and grow… and then, move on. They shouldn’t be keeping you up at night.
Ask for help when navigating difficult parent relationships
In the wonderful world of counseling, it’s not a matter of if you’ll need help with a specific parent but when you’ll need help. Use your administrators as a support team when faced with a challenging situation with a parent. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of wisdom to recognize when and where you need backup.
Bring in reinforcements, whether your assistant principal, principal, department head, or another counselor, when you suspect a meeting could get heated. No one deserves to get ripped to pieces in a parent meeting, but sadly, if you’re in the school counseling game long enough, it will happen to you. A team member can serve as a witness, as well as a sounding board in difficult situations.
Check out this post for more effective, healthy habits to implement with your administrators. Teamwork really does make the dream work.
Give grace to yourself and others in your parent relationships
For all my people pleasers and peacemakers out there, you’ll have to reckon with the simple fact that you won’t be able to make everyone happy all the time. This is especially true when working with parents. Sometimes you will simply be on the receiving end of someone else’s bad day. Other times, you will be the one who genuinely made the mistake and need to take ownership and apologize.
In reality, it hurts when a parent doesn’t recognize we are on the same team. Simply do your best to remind them that you do care about them and their student, and, if that simple fact is not received well, give grace and move forward. Keep your chin up and stay focused on the things that bring you joy: helping students every day and making a difference. If parents can’t see your heart behind what you do, that’s on them!
If you want to hear more about navigating parent relationships, be sure to listen to Episode 57 of the High School Counseling Conversations podcast where we talk about this same topic.
Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to invite you to join the Clique Collab, my high school counseling membership where you can gain exclusive access to more pro tips and resources to help you build an effective high school counseling program. Let’s face it, we can’t do this high school counseling thing alone!