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How to Deal with Problem Parents

We opened our registration for summer camp last night. YIKES! Hundreds of parents showed up to get in line before the 6:00 p.m. opening. Because our camp usually fills up very quickly, we’ve been forced to create a ‘hard start time’ to make it as fair for everybody as possible. Now that registration is open, they can sign up whenever they want, but for opening day, it’s 6:00 p.m……period.

Of course there are always parents who think simple guidelines and structures don’t apply to them (and we wonder why we have students who think the same way…but I digress). Last night, we had one parent who simply couldn’t accept the fact that we wouldn’t allow her to drop her registration off before 6:00. Despite the fact that there were parents waiting in a long line, she insisted she be given the right to drop her daughter’s registration off early so she could get on with her other plans.

I find parents like this to be hilarious. Why do they think church is going to operate entirely different than every other part of society? Target opens at 8:00 a.m. Showing up at 7:45 a.m. and demanding they open the doors early for you because you are in a hurry doesn’t make any sense. Soccer sign-ups start on a certain day and a certain time. You do it their way or you don’t play. But the church does operate differently…and we should. And as a result, those of us in leadership often find ourselves in tricky scenarios. Should we have let her drop her forms off early? Maybe. Did we? No. We just didn’t feel like it would have been the right thing to do. My wife was actually the volunteer who was dealing with this parent and she did an excellent job. By the end of the conflict, she was actually thanking Rachel for such excellent service.

I’m not sure when the next time you’ll deal with an upset parent will be, or for what reason. However, I do know it’s going to happen. Here is one approach to handling their concerns. I’ve used last night’s situation as an example:

SITUATION: Parent is upset because she wants to sign up early.

“I Can Understand Why You Feel This Way”: I understand that you’re frustrated and in a hurry. It makes total sense to me that you would want to drop your registration off early and, if possible, avoid waiting in this long line………

“In Fact, Others Have Felt The Same Way”: You’re not alone in your frustration. Each year we have parents who want to do the same thing. In fact, some have even talked to Pastor Rick about their concerns…..

“Here’s What We’ve Discovered”: We’ve learned over the years that this is the most efficient and fair way to open up registration. The overall frustration caused by letting people drop stuff off early is much worse than you would imagine. We’ve discovered that when parents know we have procedures for a good, logical reason they actually appreciate the organizational efforts…

This 3-step approach will work in almost any situation. It won’t always bring about reconciliation, but at the very least it will give you a strategy for navigating the conflict.  

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Kurt Johnston has been involved in junior high ministry since 1988 and is currently the junior high pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of Controlled Chaos: Making Sense of Junior High Ministry and Go Team! He loves providing resources for junior high ministry almost as much as he loves junior highers themselves.