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How to Deal With Difficult Parents While Working in Pediatrics

Have you ever had difficult parents of a child on your caseload who is relentless? Someone who seems to question every move you make and challenge every recommendation? One who makes you feel that their sole mission in life is to make your day more challenging?

Most who have worked with children can think of at least one family they would describe as “difficult” or “overbearing.” As we all know, to make real progress as an OT, we need the help and cooperation of the families.

Carryover of implemented strategies from the therapy setting to the home environment is the best way to see progress. Making that positive connection with the parents is the key to success. How do we deal with the ones who seem downright determined to make your life harder?

Step 1. Empathy

Consider the motivation behind the difficult behavior. Being a parent is hard. Period. Being a parent of a child with a disability or diagnosis can bring about challenges that we’ve never even imagined. It places parents in the role of constantly needing to advocate for their child. This parent who seems bound and determined to question your every move is being a parent in the best way they know how.

Understanding this can go a long way in creating a positive relationship. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say; it simply means you put in the extra effort to understand their point of view and validate their concerns. This brings us to our next step.

 

Step 2. Communication

It can be hard to make time to chat with the parents while providing treatment, staying on schedule, and accomplishing the child’s goals, but it is important to keep in mind that the parent is your client, too. The challenging, inquisitive parent may just be trying to understand what you are doing to ensure their child is getting the best possible care. This is your goal as a dedicated therapist, too. It can be incredibly helpful to explain the reasoning behind what you are doing.

Scheduling a few extra minutes at that house, sending that follow-up email, or making that extra call will make all the difference, showing the family that you really do care about their child and that you are both on the same side with the same goal: to help that child achieve their full potential.

Step 3. Empowerment

Explaining what you are doing is a first step, but getting the family involved in the therapy process is a great way to make an ally of the parent. The overbearing parent is already very involved in their child’s life. Acknowledge that, praise it, and use it to your advantage!

Get them involved in the process by asking their advice when it comes to their child’s preferences. While it is important to be confident in your professional opinion, make the point that the parent knows this child best, and with their help, you will be able to provide individualized care designed specifically for their child.

Then, give them ways to follow through with the strategies proposed in therapy. This allows the parent to channel the energy they were previously aiming at examining your every move into positive solutions for their child!

Keep in mind that this won’t work for everyone; you may simply not get along with some parents or families. The best thing you can do is try your best to partner with the parents, make it clear that they and their child are very important, and convey that you are on their side. If this doesn’t work, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to make that family like you. Just know that you did what you could and feel good about that!

About Bridget McNamara

Bridget McNamara
Doctor of Occupational Therapy from MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA with a special interest in pediatrics and mental health, currently working in EI.

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