MA Business Success 14: Handling Helicopter Parents

Alex: Today we're going to be talking about a difficult one. We're talking about helicopter parents and how on earth you handle them. So, Phil, kick us off. What are your tips for handling difficult parents hovering around? Phil: Yeah, I suppose if you're in any business or you're around any sporting activity, you should know what helicopter parents are. Alex: Yes. Okay, first off, define them. Phil: For those of us who aren't too sure, they're the parent who hovers around offering, well, I wouldn't even say advice. They're bantering. They're yelling at their child. They might be negatively pointing out other children, that they're not meeting standard and all that sort of stuff. So they're that splinter in your foot while you're trying to teach class, and they're yelling out on the sidelines. In particular in martial arts, we have you know...the bigger your school, the more you're going to have of those. There are ways that you can... Alex: You don't want to stop the parents from watching. Phil: No, you gotta make sure that they are definitely invested in the interests of their child. But you just have to reframe them of, I suppose, the rules and procedures of your school and how you should act and treat children and other children so we can get the best out of them. Alex: Absolutely. Phil: Yeah, so I remember...there are many ways and many levels of approaching this topic because the last thing you want to do is have that parent there and you turn around with an aggressive point and go, "Shut up and sit down!" Alex: And totally alienate them. Phil: Hey, it might get to that point. But that's definitely not the first level of dealing with these parents. One of the main things that we do is use humor to start with. Make it a bit of a joke. I know myself and Graham have both used this one, "Oh, would you like to teach class?" "Oh, oh, oh, oh, no." Just different ways a public environment, we have that phrase "reprimand in private, praise in public." Although you want to give them a bit of a reprimand in public a little bit, it's gotta be humorous. Then they don't feel like they're being singled out, having the spotlight shining on them and that they're a bad parent. So using humor is one of the biggest tips, the first tip that we always use. Graham: Humor's a great one. Sometimes they don't get the point. It can be directed at the person and they laugh and ha ha ha, but don't forget that you're being serious. So sometimes we will also, both as a student but as a parent point of view, have a chat with the class. I don't mean sit the kids down and talk to them but direct it to the parents. Say, "Parents, don't forget. Everyone's here to enjoy their journey. How about you guys throw out some great, positive compliments." Just do it as a blanket approach, that way you're not singling out any one person but generally, they should pick up on that vibe because we want to keep the enjoyment going, get back to what we do well and teaching some great martial arts. But, unfortunately, some parents can make it very uncomfortable for other parents to be around. Equally the same, they could be directing some of the comments not only at their son or daughter, but they could also be affecting some of the other kids' journeys as well, too. And that's something that we obviously need to take seriously and direct straight away. Alex: When you have kids joining up, do you tell the parents that, "You're welcome to sit at the side but we'd appreciate it if you don't..." Graham: Mostly, being very clear with the expectations is key, but some parents get excited and they forget. Like all kids, I think we watch it. Sometimes you have to manage the kids. Sometimes you have to manage the parents and just remind them because enthusiasm is one thing that is celebrated at our schools, but obviously some parents get a little bit overzealous. It's not that they're mean bad. They just may be too loud with their comments. We've had gradings before where they are enthusiastic, but it's not positive enthusiasm. Sometimes it can be a negative thing for other parents and whatnot. Now, there are a few steps, again, further than just the humor or that scattergun approach where you blanket the class. Alex: Yes, what happens if that doesn't work? Phil: If they're not working there, go out and quietly have a chat. Sometimes sit beside them and just ask or even point it out. "Hey, look, Johnny, your son or daughter is doing a fantastic job, but we'd really appreciate it if you kept your comments to yourself at this day," whatever is a relevant course of action. Again, they could be negative in their comments. They could also be positive, but it's just too loud. For example, when the kids are sparring and they're doing a good job, and they're doing a fantastic job and they're going, "Kick him! Kick the other kid!" Obviously, from a parent's perspective, they're encouraging their child, but they're not encouraging the other kid. The other parents can get a bit teed off with that. These are the things we've got to be mindful of. Alex: And I know you've had it where that has worked? Phil: Absolutely, then we`ve got to go do the office chat. Funny enough, it's actually the same procedure we use for a child who's playing up in class. So a parent and child we deal with them very similar. Obviously, with different language but scattergun approach first. In public, it has to happen. Second is mat chat, or off to the side after class or whatever it may be, during class, just to the side just a quiet whisper. Then third would be booking an appointment to come and chat in the office, one on one and just dive a little bit deeper and find out the reasons why they're doing this and if we can improve or change their view on the benefits of doing it because we`ve been doing this for a long time. I know they've been a parent for quite some time, but we've got to be able to do our job and get the results that they want for their child. And we know best because we've been doing it for a much longer time than they have. That office chat is very, very important. When we delve a little bit deeper, and it's got to be coming out as a good thing. That whole emotion of leaving the meeting with a smile on your face and a handshake. That's got to happen. It can't be throwing hands up in the air. "I don't guys are lying," and all that stuff that can`t happen from there. Then, I suppose, the next stage is firing your client, firing your students or firing your parents. Graham: Which we have done. Alex: Have you? Graham: Absolutely. Phil: There's been a couple of moments there, with the nearly 20 years that we've both been in this industry, we've only had to do it a handful...  I couldn't even think of more than five times that we've had to do this. Alex: To me, that seems quite a lot, to be honest, that a parent can be so strong willed and sure of themselves that they can carry on that kind of behavior. They paid their fees and, therefore, they'll say what they like. Graham: Exactly, and then they think they're entitled. So what we've done, and there are great ways, we've sat down. We've had our conversations. We've done what we can and we say back to them, "Look, if you don't think that what we're doing is good enough or service enough, there's another school I think close by that will be a perfect fit for you." In other words, we're giving them that out. When you drip that conversation, "Oh, no, no, no. You guys are great!" Then you go back to your "For us to do our job properly, we need you to reframe and keep this attitude, language, whatever it maybe, in line." There's been a few that we say, "Look, there`s another school up the road that'll be a happy fit for you guys, and we're insisting that you go." Alex: Really? Graham: And some have moved on, and it's just one of those things because what we're looking at doing is that one parent or that one relationship there can have major effect on your entire student base. If you don`t take action and stand for it, what it does is undermines your ability as a strong leader for the rest of the parents and the students. A parent will discuss the issues at hand so it's important that you stand to your guns and also make sure that you continue to provide a great service both on and off the mat for all the class. Alex: That must be quite difficult from the student's point of view as well, though. If the parent is being belligerent and vocal and feisty with you and really you want your responsibility to lie with teaching the students. So that must... Phil: On occasion we have said, "Well, maybe it's better that you are a drop off parent. We encourage parents to actually sit and watch because we want to let them in to see and hear the message that we're teaching their children. But maybe, in this case, it might be better that you drop them off and let us do our job. Then they can come to the car afterwards or you can pick them up at the end." There`s another case there but what Graham was mentioning before was if you don`t cut out the cancer, it spreads. This parent might have their certain views and might be sitting next to another parent who doesn't. Well, slowly and surely... Alex: The parents start getting vocal, too. Phil: Next thing you know, there might be one, two, three, four, five parents thinking the same views. And that's what we don't want in our school. What you've got to remember is martial arts schools have strict rules and guidelines both on the floor, off the floor, and even within the community. And we gotta make sure that we uphold those rules. That's the whole point of martial arts is teaching respect, rules, discipline, all that stuff. If we can't do that to the parent as well as the student, then we're not aligning ourselves with our own values as well. Grant: One more positive to this, something that we've done in our process that has really helped minimize the amount of time that we encounter these behaviors is that after each grading, each student goes to a new belt level, not only do you outline what's next for the student, you outline the expectations for the parent. So, again, what that does is another reframe. It's another setting that benchmark standard, "As parents, we expect you to support your kids, dut dut dut dut da," whatever that may be, the outline and also their behaviors. "Again, we want your involvement, but again positive support when you're here at the dojos. Vital for their growth." We have ways that we always remind, especially for our school, remind parents of great attitude, great behaviors so it becomes a habit rather than just a one-off sort of thing. Alex: Absolutely. Okay, the last thing that you want in your school when the parents are watching is some kind of horrible feeling. You want it to be a happy, supportive learning environment. I'm actually quite surprised that you get feisty parents like that and you have to deal with them. But now we know what to do so just recapping very quickly. Phil: The first thing would be use humor and have fun with them, and make it so it's a joke because sometimes they may not realize they're even doing it. The second one would be to communicate to the parents as a whole. Alex: Blanket communication. Phil: Blanket communication, so that they get a quiet reminder that, "Oops, Jeebs! Was that me?" Third one would be quietly sit beside them or quickly grab them before they leave and say, "Hello, by the way, I was starting to see that you getting a bit overexcited. How about next time we don't have that attitude behind me going on, okay?" The fourth one would be to have a match or a quiet chat in the office. Really outline how, "We love your enthusiasm. We love your interest in your son or daughter's journey, but it's affecting some of the other guys." The fifth one would be to obviously give options on becoming a drop-off parent or find a new school, which we hope it never happens. We reframe them, obviously, well before that. Alex: Absolutely. Phil: But we still need to make sure with our process otherwise if you're not there and some else has to handle it, it may be mismanaged quite badly. Alex: Absolutely. Okay, Graham and Phil, thank you very much indeed. Great advice. Graham: No worries. Phil: Thank you. 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