How to Handle Helicopter Parents
March 18, 2015
Today, we are exploring a few pointers on how to handle one of an instructor’s daily challenges—helicopter parents.
What is a helicopter parent?
Quite simply, helicopter parents are the kind of parents that hover over students and sometimes even instructors, wanting to be involved and informed every step of the way. These kinds of parents aren’t all bad; after all, they are demonstrating a genuine interest in their children’s lives and interests. If they are hovering around before, during or after class, they are also probably:
- Trying to understand the ins and outs of your lessons.
- Curious about how their child is doing.
- Figuring out the best way to help their child practice or prepare.
- Making sure the child is staying safe.
- Evaluating whether or not the child needs help outside of class.
But as every instructor knows, there’s a limit to how much hovering is helpful. When helicopter parents start to interrupt class on a regular basis, unintentionally encourage improper techniques or turn up the pressure on your student(s), it can be a big problem.
A big part of dealing with helicopter parents is finding a way to control the conversation and setting limits for how involved the parents can get in the classroom. Most of that can be accomplished through preventative policies such as:
Setting Regular “Office Hours.” Try setting aside a few hours a week when parents know they can call or come in to talk with you one-on-one about their children. If you have places to go before or after class, this can be a real life saver! Helicopter parents will be regulars and when they start to take up too much of your time before or after class—recommending they contact you during your office hours is a polite way to end a conversation.
Regularly Sending Home Updates. Each week (or each class period) make a point of sending students home with an update summarizing what you have been working on in class, what your focus will be next time and a hand-written note if there is anything their specific student needs to work on before the next class period.
Tracking Skills Progress. Similar to a report card, outline the items a student is expected to learn in your class along with a time table for expected accomplishments. Then grade students as they progress. You can periodically (i.e. once every 4-6 weeks) pass out these updates to parents to keep them informed. Helicopter parents might be particularly interested to know if their child is progressing more or less quickly than his/her classmates, so subtly including this in the grading scale can be a big help.
Setting Classroom Boundaries. In general, having parents stop class or get involved in the lesson is a risky measure. Not only can it slow down productivity, but it can raise insurance and liability questions. If you allow parents to observe class, it’s a good idea to create policies to guide their behavior- such as where they are allowed to observe from, whether or not they are allowed to speak directly to their children during a group lesson, etc.
Offer Student Conferences. Let your students know that they can initiate a student conference if there is a problem they would like to discuss. Invite the parent(s) and the student to sit down for a discussion. Start with addressing the student's concerns by giving them control of the conversation. This provides a safe environment for students to raise uncomfortable issues. If they are feeling pressured, they are more likely to say something about it if they feel they have another adult to back them up.
Some parent’s don’t even realize that they are hovering or taking up your time. So it might be worth it to work on your own communication skills so that you can subtly keep control of the conversation. Below are four techniques to do just that:
- Continue with a Question- If a parent isn’t getting the answer they want, the conversation can go on for a while. You may try leading the conversation down a different path by posing a question.
- Be Agreeable- You can quickly change the mood of a conversation by working in a compliment or simply being agreeable, even about minor topics. This implies that you are open to what they are saying, even if you don’t have the time for a deep conversation right now.
- Eye Contact- Maintain eye contact with the other people involved in the conversation. This makes you look more honest and confident.
- Pause- Most people feel uneasy during a pause in conversation and try to either fill the silence or move on. Taking a thoughtful stance for a short pause can also give you a few moments to gather your thoughts without the other party interjecting.
- Tell a (True) Story- Drawing a parallel to a similar experience you have had in the past can both engage the other person with what you have to say and shift control of the conversation.