Parent Diplomacy

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How to deal with parents who disagree with you.

Parents in Colorado Springs were outraged when one church baptized
their children without parental permission. Parents thought their
children were going to a carnival, but instead, the children heard
a sermon that led some to think they’d be stung by killer bees if
they weren’t baptized. According to Newsweek, Pastor Dan
Irwin defended his church’s actions: “No one can show me one
passage in the Bible where it says parental permission is required
before a child is baptized.”

Is this a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water? Or
more accurately, throwing the family out with the baptismal water?
Who has more authority over the children in your ministry-you or
parents? If our goal is to reach families for Jesus Christ, we need
to tread carefully when parents disagree with us.

As a Christian educator, you’ll undoubtedly encounter children
whose parents don’t agree with you. A child’s parents may simply
have different behavioral expectations or may disagree with the
most basic Christian doctrines. When parents disagree with you,
here’s how you can most effectively deal with the child and the
parents.

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Don’t undermine parents’ authority. Teach Colossians 3:20 to children: “Children, obey
your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” While there
may be exceptions, explain that this is what God expects.

If conflicts between home and church arise, don’t make the parent
look bad. When the first-grade teacher broke up a scuffle, one of
the kids said, “My dad says if someone hits me I should hit him
back.” The teacher didn’t say, “Your dad is wrong.” She simply
replied, “Our rule here is that we don’t fight back.”

Don’t sneak around behind parents’ backs. This doesn’t
mean you must sit down with each parent and explain your whole
curriculum, but it does mean you should never intentionally
deceive. If you’re inviting a neighborhood group over for Bible
stories, don’t tell the parents it’s a party. Parents who don’t
attend church themselves often still want Christian input for their
children. There’s really no need to be secretive!

A changed child can be a testimony to his or her family if everyone
has been upfront about what’s being taught. Angela’s unbelieving
parents were impressed with the knowledge of Scripture she’d gained
from attending a Bible club. They began quizzing each other on
Scripture, went to some adult Bible studies, and are now both
Christians.

Keep an open-door policy. Encourage
parents to learn about what their kids are doing at church. Send
papers and projects home with children. Don’t force this, however,
if a child seems reluctant. Kyle always gave his work to a
receptive adult in the congregation before leaving, and his
teachers learned that this was more rewarding for him than seeing
his treasures in the trash at home.

Build a relationship with both parents. If only one parent
brings a child to Sunday school, don’t drive further wedges in
marital relationships by dealing only with that parent. Address
notes regarding programs and special events to both parents.

Evaluate
parents’ input
. While our natural tendency is to be
defensive when criticized, there may be times when we’re in the
wrong. Two teachers jokingly taught kids to say, “There’s a barge
coming through” when they burped. A mother complained, and rightly
so! If you’ve been wrong about something, admit it and work toward
change. If, after evaluating, you feel you’re right, explain your
reasoning to the parent. Often he or she will understand, or you
can at least “agree to disagree.”

Back everything with Scripture
. Make sure your
students know that you’re not the final authority-God is. When a
child tells you, “My mom says everyone who’s good goes to heaven,”
don’t just tell her what you believe. Show her from the Bible what
God requires. You won’t even have to say, “I’m afraid your mom’s
wrong.”

Use of Scripture is especially important when parents don’t agree
with each other. Teachers don’t have to “take sides” but can simply
show what God’s Word says. However, at the same time of backing
your teaching with Scripture, don’t preach at parents. Your
actions-and those of children-speak louder than words to
parents.


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Demonstrate that some diversity in belief is okay.
Encourage compromise or tolerance as long as it doesn’t go against
truth. If Joey’s parents like joyful praise songs with a strong
beat but Lori’s parents have requested quiet, “reverent” music, use
some of both in your class. Be supportive of each child regardless
of family differences. I didn’t allow my daughter to miss Sunday
school in order to go to the circus with her grandparents, but I
can’t condemn the two little boys in my class who are absent many
Sundays because of athletic events. Keep in mind the principle of
Romans 14: Concentrate on what’s really
important and don’t judge disputable matters.

Pray. Whether you follow any of the other suggestions or
not, this one is a must. Pray for wisdom in dealing with children
and their parents. Pray for parents who need a change of heart. And
pray especially for the children whose lives you’re affecting both
for this life and for eternity.ú

Connie Holman has worked with children in the church for 15
years.

WHEN A PARENT IS ANGRY

Use these tips to deal with an angry parent.

Train teachers to deal with angry parents. Use teacher
training meetings to role play anger-defusing situations. Have
teachers take turns playing the parts of an angry parent and a
teacher. Role play situations such as a parent who disagrees with a
church doctrine, a parent who’s angry that a teacher disciplined
her child, and a parent who’s angry because a teacher inadvertently
condemned his lifestyle.

Respond immediately to a parent’s concern. If the problem
is too big for a teacher to handle, step in. If you know there’s a
problem, don’t wait for the parent to contact you. Call the parent
and invite him or her in to talk about what happened.

Be diplomatic. It’s crucial in a conflict situation to be
supportive of your teachers and staff and at the same time
respectful of the parent’s position.

Listen. Allow an angry parent to say everything on his or
her mind. Take notes and then restate the parent’s concern. Say
something like, “What I hear you saying is that you’re concerned
about…and you’d like me to…”

Take action. By the end of your conversation with an angry
parent, tell the parent what you’ll do about the complaint.
Acknowledge that there’s a problem and that you plan to do
something about it. Then do something.

Report back. Let the parent know that you’ll contact him
or her in two weeks to discuss the progress of your action
plan.

Copyright© Group Publishing, Inc. / Children’s Ministry
Magazine

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