Taekwondo Parent – Instructor – Student Triangle

Many instructors sometimes wish that they could eliminate the parent from the equation when it comes to teaching children because they ask awkward questions such as:

‘Why isn’t Johnny grading?’

‘Can you improve my child’s discipline?’

The Parent – Instructor – Student Triangle - An Article by Master Frank MurphyThe fact of the matter is, parents, even the most difficult to handle, may be the key to developing an excellent school, because often, their opinion counts, even if it doesn’t quite fit into your way of thinking. It is a question of developing a few interpersonal skills to deal with uncomfortable situations and turning them into positive outcomes.

Parents come in many forms depending on their level of involvement:

The Under involved -> Disinterested/misinformed Parents

The Moderately involved

 The Over involved -> Excitable/Fanatical Parents

Generally, those that pose the greatest problem are the excitable and fanatical parents.

So how do you deal with these different characters?

The key to success with any parents is clear, open, honest communication right from the start. Generally you will meet them for the first time over the telephone during an enquiry or face to face when they visit your school for the first time. Initially they may have concerns about safety, question the actual activity, and want to know what benefits your school can offer their child. Many parents come to your school after being misinformed or with preconceived ideas about martial arts and often naively believe that what you may teach can make their child untouchable or be the miracle cure for their behaviour problems. So your first port of call is to educate the parent to what you are all about and to what extent you can help their child.

Therefore the following strategies may help you deal with parents:

  • Listen clearly to the parents’ concerns, acknowledge them and try to explain what areas you may be able to help in.
  • Explain that you are part of the equation when it comes to helping their child’s behaviour problems, depending on the severity; improvement requires a combination of parents, teachers, instructor input. Never promise or sell your programme on the basis that you alone can solve all their discipline problems.
  • Explain clearly the educational emphasis you put in your syllabus as well as the physical. This depends on the culture of your school. If a parent is only interested in turning their child into an elite athlete and your focus is more on character development integrated within general martial arts training, then you may find this parent a problem to deal with, as their way of thinking certainly does not fit into your school. It is best to be honest from the start,  and not to mislead parents into false promises.
  • When a child joins for the first time, offer a brochure to parents that gives them guidelines on how they can help or be involved in their child’s training. Use the brochure to answer some of the most frequently asked questions and clarify key points such as belt structure, attendance requirements, parent involvement, safety factors etc.
  • If a parent is not happy with something in particular or has a grievance, don’t hide from it, if anything try and pre-empt the grievance and approach them before they approach you. Book an appointment with them to talk about the problem privately rather than in front of other parents. Once again this avoids embarrassment or sending the wrong message to other parents. This method also makes the parent feel important and valued and often ends with a  win/win solution.
  • For the under involved parent, make attempts to communicate with them for example by telephone, or newsletter. Try to invite them to events such as gradings etc because often they are so busy that they may fail to read the newsletter and need that bit of help in the form of a reminder.
  • Over involved parents tend to put a lot of pressure on their children, from shouting out on the sidelines of the class to becoming aggressive and out of line in a competitive event such as a tournament. Many of them are often trying to live their own fantasies through their own children and this can be quite harmful to the child’s confidence, self-esteem etc. Once again, the best strategy is to speak to these individuals in a private meeting. Acknowledge that you appreciate their enthusiasm and involvement but explain how on occasions the way it is done can actually be detrimental to the child’s development and improvement. Perhaps try to give them a job to do that will satisfy their need for involvement but may de-focus them a little form their child.

So to summarise: It is important to keep parents well informed, to listen to their concerns and invite them to be involved with their child’s training. If they need help, offer clear guidance on how this can be done, so that it can be of maximum benefit to the child.

Catarina Murphy has practised martial arts since 1988. A 3rd Degree Black Belt, she has pioneered a number of industry related courses and workshops.

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