You plan a parents event to inspire and change behaviour from the unwelcome to helpful, only the parents you really want to attend, don’t show up! You are desperate for Mr Angry, Miss Shoutstoomuch and Mrs Pushy to attend because you can see the impact their behaviour is having on their child, but as the seats or taken, they are absent and you are left feeling frustrated and disappointed.
What do you do?
I totally understand the challenge. The difficulty for schools and clubs is getting “challenging” parents to buy into the organisation’s positive values and behaviours meaningfully. It’s not easy, I’ve worked with tons of organisations and you never get the engagement from those parents you hope will take part. This is a massive challenge. Schools, faith groups, orchestras and sports clubs all have the same problem.
Here is the advice I’ve given.
1. You NEVER get everyone, so focus on culture change rather than individuals.
2. Be a ‘glass half full’ person and organisation. Often, I’m gutted at the parents who don’t turn up, rather than celebrating those who do. See the potential in those who are there.
3. Work hard to engage those parents who do want to engage in fun and inspiring ways.
4. Be ok with people not opting in. It hurts to see parents limit their children, but I passionately believe we need to respect that people parent as they know best and we don’t know the full story.
5. Even though your good work with a child is probably being limited by unhelpful parent approaches, still give those children your best. You might be the person who helps the child break the cycle.
6. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors. Some parents are a nightmare on sports pitches but are amazing the rest of the time. While others are doing all the keeping up appearances stuff on the sideline and are a nightmare at home.
7. Praise, praise, praise and reward positive parent engagement. Make it obvious what you like as an organisation.
8. Give all parents the opportunity to have a voice in the process. The process is about their kids.
9. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries about conduct on sidelines, WhatsApp etc. and make sure these are regularly promoted.
10. Play games with the parents. Mr competitive mum/dad will love to join in with games and he or she might learn more about themselves through play. Here is a game I played with parents.
11. Don’t be afraid to challenge unhelpful behaviour, but do it calmly and not publicly. Be prepared to upset some people. It’s not nice, but it sometimes is needed.
12. Use someone like me to work with parents. Sometimes a different voice can be really helpful in engaging those people. Get parents involved in planning the evening workshop for parents!
I think that will do for starters! If we can focus on those parents we have, we will create an awesome culture which will not be perfect but will make it harder for unhelpful behaviour to surface. Will these 12 points fix it all? Nope. People are people, but these have helped me in many contexts.
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Would you like to know more about the services I offer to sports teams to help engage parents in a culture encouraging way? If so, click here.