Dealing Effectively With Parents

Bus drivers need to watch their tone and body language when communicating with parents.

Preventing problem behavior on your school bus is only part of the equation. In addition to dealing with student behavior, drivers also have to deal with the parents of students. Some parents are active in their child’s daily routine and are often at the bus stop communicating with the driver regularly.

These interactions are usually pleasant. Other parents are rarely involved with their child’s bus ride unless issues arise such as disciplinary action, bullying by another student, an early or late bus or lost personal items. The latter interactions can be more difficult, and sometimes even confrontational.

To deal effectively with parents, we need to first understand what they are telling us by actively listening. Consider the tone, gestures and body language as well as the words themselves. Give the other person your full attention — don’t argue with, insult or interrupt them, and do not plan what to say while the other person is talking. Focus on what the parents are saying so you understand their needs. You may need to listen more intently when there are cultural or language differences. It is important to be respectful of any parent’s attempt to address an issue. If their request is unclear, rephrase what you think they said to ask for clarification.

Treat parents as you would want to be treated, regardless of how they are behaving. It may be difficult, especially if they are name-calling or making personal attacks, but reacting impulsively to their comments will make matters worse.

When you remain calm and focused on their plight, you become in control of the situation and eliminate potential ammunition to escalate the situation.

If the parent is making a scene, simply let the individual vent. Your lack of reaction can help ease his or her temper. Be careful not to make accusations or speak disrespectfully of their child in front of them, as that will only inflame an argument. It should already be obvious that you should not use profanity or insults.

In some cases, you may need to control a serious situation, such as removing a parent from the bus. Call the person by name, if you know it, and state your situation directly and without accusations: For example, “school policy does not allow unauthorized persons on the bus, so I need to ask you to step off the bus.” Remember to pay close attention to your own nonverbal communication to help maintain this control.

When you feel you understand parents’ requests, and you have restated it to their satisfaction, only do or promise what is within your abilities. For example, “I cannot change the timing of the stop, but you can discuss it with our dispatcher, here is his or her phone number.” Offer them your supervisor’s contact information and encourage them to speak with him or her. Treat them respectfully and follow all company and school district rules. This will also help diffuse the situation and allow you return to your route.

Finally, follow up with your supervisor and document your encounter as soon as possible. If you can, call in on the radio to report what has happened and simply note the facts without commentary or opinion. You can elaborate on the details once you return to your station.

Be proactive! If you have had issues with a student on several occasions and think it could result in a confrontation, talk to your supervisor or the school district about your concerns. This can help you prepare for a confrontation should it arise. In all cases, you need to follow the company and school district policy regarding communication and confidentiality of information.

By following the rules and keeping your cool, your chances of turning an argument into a discussion will greatly increase.

This article is courtesy of Keystone Insurers Group, the insurance provider endorsed by the National School Transportation Association.