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What to do when parents refuse to believe their child is naughty

Tackling challenging behaviour depends on parental input, but that is not always a given, says Lisa Jarmin

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There’s this child in your class; we’ll call him Lewis.

Lewis has been conducting a reign of terror that he inflicts on the school. He swears and shouts, he’s disobedient and he makes his friends' lives a misery.

You know full well that Lewis calls you a knobhead and regularly administers dead legs in the playground, but any attempt to bring up his challenging behaviour with his parents leads to stone-cold denial and a refusal to cooperate with you to improve the situation. They insist he would never act in such a way.

So what do you do?

1. Find out about behaviour at home

It is possible that their child is well behaved at home, in which case it’s going to be difficult for them to believe that there are behavioural problems at school. The question here is: why is school an issue for behaviour? Something is clearly going wrong at school to make this child act out and you need to get to the bottom of it. You will need to work with them to find out what that is.

But if behaviour is also challenging at home, then…

2. Understanding is key

As parents, your children are a reflection of you, however unfair that may be sometimes. And admitting you are struggling as a parent is tough. Ensure you are clear that this is not a question of blame; rather, everyone wants to help the child improve their behaviour, and to do that, everyone has to pull together. Use anecdotes to put them at ease. You will find that, more often than not, removing the element of shame has a huge impact.

3. Have they had the full picture?

Telling parents that their child is misbehaving may come as a massive shock. Some teachers shy away from confrontation and avoid having a frank conversation with the parents about how bad things are. This can account for the “Well, we’ve never had any other complaints from school” argument that you sometimes hear. Schools need to ensure communication channels are open, and that teachers are trained and supported in having difficult conversations with parents.

4. Is the child giving a different version of events?

Sometimes, even if behaviour is also bad at home, in this instance the child may have given the parent a completely different version of events. In this version, the child may be the innocent victim and someone else plays the role of the bully. You have to give that version due diligence: is it plausible? How much do you actually know? How sure are you? Only once you have done this can you dismiss (if it does prove false) that version of events.

Obviously, if none of these methods work, then you will need to escalate to the senior leadership team or the headteacher. Parental buy-in to behaviour management is key, so this is not one you can just leave because it is too difficult to address. 

Lisa Jarmin is a teacher and freelance writer

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