Feb 21, 2011

How to Respond To An Angry Parent

If you've been in Children's Ministry very long, you've dealt with an angry parent. If you're just starting out in Children's Ministry, don't worry...your time is coming.

Sometimes the parent will be upset with just cause. None of us or our ministries are perfect,and there will be times when we blow it. At other times, the parent's information, perception, or reasoning will be misguided or off base.

Either way, the important thing is how you navigate the situation. It is important to respond instead of reacting. Your personality type or the kind of day you are having should not determine your response. Responding wisely is an acquired skill that can be learned.

Here are some tips on how to respond to an angry parent...

Remember that many times you are seeing the surface symptoms of deeper issues going on in their life. Hurt people hurt. People who are stressed can have a short fuse. The anger they are expressing toward you may really not be about you or the Children's Ministry. You may be an outlet where they can vent their anger about a deeper issue. The mom who explodes at the check-in line may be a single mom who is trying to raise three preschoolers by herself. The dad who yells at a volunteer may have just lost his job and doesn't know how he is going to take care of his family. Looking beyond the anger to see the hurt will help you enter the situation with empathy instead of defensiveness.

If you're in a crowd, move to a private, quieter place. This helps alleviate some of the pressure that has built up. It also changes it from being a "scene" to a sensible discussion.

Lower the decibel level. If you're like me, my human nature wants to respond by matching their tone or even overriding it. But that is not the wise thing to do. Remember Proverbs 15:1? It says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh response makes tempers flare." If the parent is talking in a loud, angry tone or is even to the point of shouting, do not match their tone or decibel level. Instead talk in a quieter, softer voice. It will eventually bring their level down as well.

Zip it up and listen up. Most of the time, the parent just wants to be heard. They want to know that you care and are genuinely interested in their concerns. Instead of arguing, let them know you are there to listen. And...don't say what you are thinking. If they are way off base or misguided in their concerns, the temptation is to set them straight...to tell them off. But that will only widen the gap. Pride tells someone off. Humility listens.

Use silent pauses. As they vent, pause for a few seconds before you respond. This helps you lead by example instead of emotion. And if they are so angry that they are zoned out, this will also bring them back to earth.

Use the word "let's" instead of "you." This technique is very effective in moving the situation from a battle to a collaboration.

Rehearse back to them what they said. This will show that you listened and truly want to bring resolution.

Ask open ended questions that they can respond "yes" to. The word "yes" has a calming effect.

Brainstorm options with them. Ask how they think the situation can be resolved. Again, this moves you from battling to collaboration. Leave the situation with action steps or possible solutions.

Thank them for their concerns. This shows you value them as a person.

Apologize even if it's not your fault. Pride looks for an apology. Humility gives an apology. Pride looks for victory. Humility looks for resolution.

Follow up with them. Let them know about any steps that were taken to resolve the issue. At times, a card, flowers, or gift certificate is a great touch. Kindness dissolves conflict.

It's never easy when anger suddenly surfaces. It takes patience and practice to handle it well.

What are some methods you use when responding to an angry parent?

Posted by Dale Hudson


Dale in 20 years I've never had an angry parent!
Ha! Wink, wink...these are good words, especially for young leaders to hear.

I think the first one is the most important to remember. There is ALWAYS more to the story.

I've also had to step in between an angry parent and an angry volunteer. As it turns out there were two deeper issues to deal with. The volunteer has since moved on and that angry parent has taken the position! lol

great common sense ideas - if we can remember to use these steps we are sure to be glad we did when confronted with an angry parent - thanks!

There isn't a person in this universe that doesn't need to read this post - me being the main one! There is so much to learn from this wisdom whether you're a kidmin leader, cashier, clerk, or CEO! Good stuff! - Amy Fenton Lee

Thanks Dale! Very good stuff here!

Good stuff! The bottom line is we all want to protect our kids so if any of us feels our kids have been wronged, our dander goes up. And you're right, most of the issues that come up are not really about that situation but a culmination of other things in their life boiling up. Thanks for the sound advice. Dealing with angry parents is hard.

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