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Critical Parents: How to Defuse the Bomb

Over the years, I have dealt with lots of critical or upset parents. Sometimes they had reason for their concerns and sometimes they didn’t. I have handled some of the situations well and I have handled others well….not so well.

I’ve learned that there are a few “defusing” techniques that almost always serve to help the scenario from blowing up in my face. These are in no particular order.

– “Feel, Felt, Found”: When I remember to utilize this tool, things
seem to go more smoothly. It simply means saying something like this: “Mr. Jones, I understand why you feel the way you do. In fact, others have felt the same way and here is what we have found……” This works when you are admitting fault as well as when you aren’t.

Strike while the irons hot! Avoid the temptation to avoid an upset or critical parents. Whatever they are concerned about will only get worse if
they feel they are being ignored.

– Thank them: I know this one sounds crazy because none of us are thankful for critical parents. But I have learned to be. When I think about the thousands of parents who have allowed me access to their child’s life over the years, I am shocked at how few of them are willing to share their concerns with me. I have also learned that while their method of delivery may not always be the best (angry emails, third-person messengers, etc.), their concerns are often valid and have helped
me grow as a leader and provide better, safer ministry. I ALWAYS thank parents who
are upset or critical because it would have been easier for them to remain silent.

Look for ways to turn critics into cheerleaders. More often than not, after a conversation with an upset parent they are back on board and more supportive of the ministry than ever before. They have felt listened to, and they have had their issue resolved. Don’t waste this opportunity. I will often ask these parents if they would now be willing to be a cheerleader for our ministry. I will say something like,
“Mrs. Adams, I’m sure you aren’t the only parent who has felt this way, and I would love for you to encourage others to come talk to me….or better yet, you can talk to them yourself now that you understand the situation more clearly. Mrs. Adams, when parents like you become vocal supporters of our ministry, it really makes a big difference!”

Parents….some of them are ticking time bombs; but most of them can be defused.  

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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.