How to Have a Difficult Conversation with a Parent

how to have a difficult conversation with a parentDo you have a student that is struggling with their learning or their behaviour? It might be time to have a difficult conversation with a parent now! Parents hate surprises on report cards (your admin will hate it more), and if you haven’t already had the chat you need to have, don’t leave it too late.

How to have a difficult conversation with a parent:

📆 Make a date.

Don’t spring the difficult conversation on them when they are unprepared. For some parents, knowing that you want to talk about their child’s achievement or behaviour will begin the dialogue in their head, which is generally a good think as it helps them to reflect and rationalise. Give them the option of in-person or phone.

📈Begin with the positives, and what their child has done well.

First, show examples where their child demonstrated skills and if possible have some examples of growth (handwriting is a good one for this). Having some positives to talk about can show that you care, have identified their child’s strengths, and really know their child. Parents just want to feel that their children are seen.

📉Explain the problem.

Once you have covered introductions and some positives, explain the problem or the reason for the meeting. If it is an academic problem, explain the curriculum expectations and how their child isn’t meeting the expectations. Don’t compare their child to the rest of the class. If it is a behavioural problem, talk the parents through the school behaviour plan, so they know how their child has not met expectations.


Always have evidence to show the parent. For academics include examples of writing or written maths, where you can demonstrate how the child has not quite demonstrated the skill needed. Explain how the topic has been taught and why you think this learning gap is an issue. For behaviour, make sure you have kept records, preferably a daily behaviour tracker alongside anecdotal records, and also evidence such as reflection sheets written by the child. Expect push-back but don’t be defensive. If you’re not sure of an answer, say “I’m not sure, can I get back to you on that?”

Most importantly, explain what you and the school are doing to help.

After detailing the problem, have some solutions! Ensure you detail differentiation and modifications made to accommodate their child. You can also propose a plan to address the issue. For behaviour issues, detail specific behaviours, triggers, consequences and outcomes already identified and used. If you think the student needs to see a professional, talk to your admin team about having that conversation with the parent, or supporting you in that conversation.

Ask for parental support if needed.

It’s ok to ask a parent to complete extra activities at home. You can ask a parent to work with you on a behaviour plan (poor behaviour = no pizza on family pizza night). Also, don’t be afraid to ask the parent to try new things, like dropping their child at the gate instead of fussing over their child while you are trying to begin your first lesson. You are a teaching and learning team. You may not always be on the same page, but you can always ask.

Finally, in a difficult conversation with a parent, never gloss over and don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Don’t promise above and beyond what you can physically, mentally and emotionally give for a child. Having this conversation doesn’t mean that you will be able to fix all of the problems yourself. As you know, if their child has learning difficulties it can take years for these to be diagnosed and corrected. Difficult conversations are difficult. Really, truly, as much as we would like to avoid them, as a teacher we can’t. We need to have an open dialogue with our parents, and most importantly,  it is worth having these conversations early. One very last tip (to cover yourself!) – document this meeting and share a copy with the parent. Add actionable tasks into you calendar and file the document in a safe place. Try a template like our free Parent Teacher Interview Template