Sadly, if you haven’t yet, you may encounter bullying parents this year. What will you do?
Last week, I talked to a public school teacher who mentioned to me that her dinner meeting with a friend had been cancelled the night before. I asked why. Well, according to her, her teacher friend had been having repeated problems with a little girl kicking other students, slapping them and threatening them. After repeated warnings and consequences, the behavior happened again, only worse. This teacher followed policy and sent the child to detention, to hopefully deescalate the situation and to protect the other children. But then the bullying parents showed up at the school office at 3 p.m. with their team of attorneys. Her friend, and several of the other staff, were forced to stay as the whole situation blew up.
You may have seen several news programs lately on the problem of teachers being bullied by bullying parents. As the saying goes, the parents used to hold the child responsible for their behavior and grades—today the teacher often takes the blame for a child’s behavior and grades. The article “Teachers face a storm of bullying—by the children’s parents” had me concerned and shaking my head.
Among other things, the article states: “40 percent of teachers quit in their first year, because of the excessive workload and the harsh realities of life in the classroom.” That’s four out of every 10 new teachers quitting after the first year! The article also states this frightening fact: “40 percent of teachers reported abuse from parents in the past year, compared with 27 percent in 2014.” The problem is clearly growing worse.
And how does this affect the church and those of us who work in ministry to children and families? Like in many cases, what is affecting the schools is affecting the church. Many children’s pastors have reported having bullying parents shouting at them publicly, threatening them, teasing them, name calling, etc., over lost books, a prize, behavior issues and so forth. I have seen it happen myself. For example, I rounded the corner on a Wednesday night to see a dad shouting at an AWANA leader for going five minutes over time. The AWANA leader handled the situation well, but it was embarrassing to be called names in a crowded church hallway. I intervened and tried to calm the situation, and pull the parent’s attention to me and to a less public area. This has happened in the past when we have enforced new policies, changed classroom locations or changed service times, for example.
So how can the church respond to the growing problem of parents bullying those who serve their children? Here are a few ideas that I have discovered from our staff and from other churches who have handled this well:
1. Realize that we are called to minister to broken people—broken families and hurting parents.
Many are facing the fallout of tragedy, divorce, loss, mental illness, violence, stress and more. If we are going to err, let us err on the side of grace. This is one more reason why the church MUST disciple parents and families, educating them as to what family was first meant to be. Families need help, encouragement and support. Many are struggling.
2. Our culture explicitly and implicitly seems to teach us that the “GOOD” parents are the ones who “get in there and fight for their kids.”
Some parents are trying to fight for their kids, but they don’t know how, and/or they are fighting the wrong battles, fighting against the wrong people. Try your best to tear down those walls and partner WITH the parents. When a parent seems to be trying to start a battle, do not engage head on; do your best to try to diffuse the situation.
3. Several churches have begun reaching out to the public school teachers with baskets of school supplies, prayer days for teachers, gift cards, cards of encouragement and more.
This has made a huge impact in communities. Do not assume that the schools and the teachers do not want any help or input from you. Where others may have burned bridges, you can make inroads to minister, simply by serving and loving.
4. You can eliminate a lot of problems by clearly posting your rule policies in every classroom.
Communicate those policies every chance you get. This can help parents understand expectations, and it helps YOU not look like you are singling out one child.
5. Always remember and tell your volunteers: “You do not deserve to be verbally abused or threatened.”
If you see that happening you must intervene right away, and let your church leadership know what is happening. Confront the situation lovingly, in private, with a witness—preferably your lead pastor. But make it clear that you are making church a “safe place” where name calling and yelling are not going to be tolerated. Keep working for and modeling a better way.
What about you? Have you or your volunteers encountered incidences of parent bullying? How did you respond? What advice would you give to kids workers encountering this problem?