A multitude of reasons can explain why in some cases, a parent or caregiver may react with anger when their child is involved in a bullying situation. (See Understanding Parents and Caregivers.) Whatever the reason, few of us enjoy dealing with an angry person and the situation can trigger many unpleasant feelings. We may find ourselves reacting with feelings of anger, fear, anxiety or helplessness.
Our goal during an encounter with an angry parent or caregiver is to defuse their anger and to discover its source so we can move on to information-sharing and problem-solving. In order to do so, we need to connect with our internal strengths and resources allowing us to deflect their anger and not take it personally.
Ideally this will allow us to compassionately and respectfully hear the parent or caregiver, to acknowledge their experience without reacting or trying to fix them. If we are able to respond openly and non-defensively, this can go a long way to defusing a difficult situation. The following guidelines can help us to remain steadily focused on in our response:
1. Breathe deeply.
2. Remind ourselves: “This is not personal”.
3. Speak calmly and clearly.
4. Inquire: seek information.
5. Remain open to the response.
Once the parent or caregiver is speaking more calmly and you have the sense that they feel heard and understood, you may want to dig deeper to understand the underlying root of their anger. It may be related to feelings of guilt or powerlessness; it may be a defence against the pain of prejudice, oppression and injustice.
Facing someone who is angry while remaining calm and centred is difficult and challenging. It requires a great deal of self-confidence. It is important to underscore the importance of knowing that we have institutional support when we find ourselves in such a situation.
Sometimes, we may need to get support and ensure that there is an appropriate institutional response. When anger turns to passive-aggressive behaviour such as gossip, rumours, or indirect third-party put-downs (for example, via a student), we need to make sure we are not facing these alone. Depending on the support system available within our school, we can seek help from the principal, or from our union representative.
In rare situations, anger may turn into aggression such that a teacher does not feel safe. For example, if a parent or caregiver is yelling, standing too close, blocking the door, looming over someone who is sitting down or preventing someone from leaving the room, they may feel unsafe. Our concept of power sharing helps us to identify that these are situations where the power dynamic has shifted, such that the teacher’s power and right to be safe, strong and free are being taken away. In such a situation, we can use assertiveness (see Assertiveness) to retain our power and our rights. Of course, this certainly constitutes another kind of situation in which we need to seek institutional support.