ParentsHow do you handle parents who are unable to see the potential in their child and believe that they are unable to do things that you know they are capable of?

Expert Answers
Jen Sambdman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I try to tell the parents of what I think the child is capable of and hope they agree. If that isn't the case and they think their child is a "lost-cause", I just go on expecting what I expect and hope the child just surprises the crap out of them.

As a secondary teacher who teaches Basic English with a SPED co-teacher for half of my classes, I have the resources to maintain a high-quality, modified classroom. If mom and dad think their child is incapable of something, fine. Whatever. That is your opinion folks. I have found that when myself and my co-teacher have a level of expectation and belief that the child can be successful, he/she will succeed. Like they say, if you set the bar low, they will go low. Set it it high and although they may not be able to reach it, they will still get up higher than if you preach mediocrity.

The way I look at it, as long as I am not breaking any laws and I am making sure that all accommodations on the IEP are met, they cant complain too much...and if they do, my butt is covered and the kid STILL comes out on top.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a special educator in a mainstream school, i make sure that in my early meetings with parents we discuss long and short term expectations for their child. I always make sure that I listen to their observations and experiences of education (for themeslves as well as their children if possible). I have found that many parents have not had positive experiences of school and expectations for them were not high. This is often where the belief that 'he won't be able to do anything worthwhile' comes from. As other postings have indicated, I then discuss my experience with similar youngsters to theirs (maintaining confidentilality of course).

Sometimes it has been useful to recommend that they talk to other families facing similar challenges. One of my best assets is a Teacher Aide whose daughter has overcome a range of challenges to now be in employment and able to drive. Looking at these older individuals who have been able to succeed can give these families hope and a morerealistic picture for their child's future.

drgingerbear eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Keeping the student "your" focus is the key to success. I hold all students with high expectations. I have discovered that many of my high school students who are struggling readers have come to believe that they are stupid and can not/will not ever learn to read. It becomes my challenge to show them that they are indeed capable of learning --- especially to read. One strategy I use with my students is to have them chart their own data. It becomes a competition with themself to see how much better they can become. This past year, I had 60 students improve their reading at least 1 grade level and 50% increase over 3 grade levels.... did I mention they were 9th grade BOYS? For the parents who cared (not all of them did), they were floored and excited. The kids left school looking forward to next year!

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have run into this a few times. Some parents are enablers, usually without realizing it. So long as their child needs them--a lot--they feel a special sense of importance in their child's life. Some, I've found, are just overprotective. They fear their child really can't accomplish more and will be hurt in the process of trying. These are difficult attitudes to deal with, the first more so than the second. One approach that sometimes worked was to explain what I believed the student could achieve, in small steps, and figure out ways to involve the parents in the process. By being involved, they were more likely to understand what was going on in class and were more likely to recognize progress when it occurred.

drgingerbear eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When I meet with parents that do not see their students as capable as I so, I invite them to the class to "observe" their students. Additionally, when I meet with parents, especially at IEP time, I provide authentic work that the students have completed. Many times they are amazed at the progress of their child.

For my students that are moderate to severe intellectually delayed, we do "luncheons" at school where the parents are invited to witness their child prepare a lunch for everyone. Everyone has a "job" and it is amazing to see the look of transformation on the parent's faces when their child cooks pizza in an oven or makes spaghetti on the stove top!

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am not a special educator, but I am the parent of two special-needs kids (both in college now), and I am a former school principal. I found it effective in parent meetings to talk to parents as a parent first and an educator second. It seemed to put them at ease to know that I have personal experience with parenting special-needs children. I would share with them how my children had progressed through their school careers and gone far beyond what I had expected at the time of their diagnoses.


tadavis | Student

One of the things that I try to do in addition to those already mentioned is explain their child’s disability with an analogy.  I tell them to picture their child running the 440 around the track, except they are running backwards. The finish line is still their goal the same as every other student, but they just come at it differently.  My hope is to make the parent understand that their child is perfectly capable of achieving the same goals as those students that don’t display a diagnosed disability. Only they approach their goal from a different direction.  I also share with them a number of recognizable figures that experienced disabilities. For example, Robert and John F. Kennedy suffered from learning disabilities ((“Famous People with Learning Disabilities”, 2009). Other recognizable names are Danny Glover for Lethal Weapon and Ty Pennington for Extreme Homes. This works for me more often than not.

balynn | Student

How do you handle parents who are unable to see the potential in their child and believe that they are unable to do things that you know they are capable of?

I would refer them to "learned helplessness" and carefully explain how it damages the esteem and future capabilities of the student by adhereing to it.

epollock | Student

It depends on the position that you find yourself in. If you are talking to them as a teacher, then you can praise the student and tell the parents that they are capable of so much more and tell them exactly what you think they are capable of.  Ask the parents if they have any plans for the child and ask the parents if they would like to see their child either do more or accomplish more. If you can get the parents agreeing with you or saying yes to you several times, their objections can be handled very well.

krishna-agrawala | Student

We need to differentiate between the present performance of a child and the future potential. My observation has been that parents usually believe that their children have very high potential, and are dissatisfied with their present performance.

Of course, there are parents that have low opinion about both the current performance and potential. And frankly speaking, there are individual differences between different students. In such cases, it is not enough to convince the parents that their children are performing as well as others. The real need is to make the parents realize the need to be supportive to their children, to find out what they are good at, and to provide best possible support to them to realize their potential.

Skill to be supportive and helpful to others are perhaps one the most valuable skill for any one to have. These skill are specially useful to us in our roles as parents and teachers. Unfortunately such skill are also difficult to learn. While individual efforts of teachers to help parents appreciate capabilities and performance of their children is commendable, I believe there is a great need for a more organized effort in this direction.