Pressure from parents: how to manage

How can schools successfully work with parents to manage pressures on pupils? Mike Lamb provides strategies to help develop realistic expectations and a three-way partnership

Author details

Mike Lamb is director of staff and pupil wellbeing at Hurstierpoint College. A previous head of year and housemaster, Mike has developed and designed whole school wellbeing programmes and believes these should be at the heart of every school.

Pressure from parents on pupils, and schools, can be significant and is often magnified in the independent sector.

When parents feel they are receiving a service or buying into a brand, often at a significant financial cost, they perhaps quite rightly have high expectations. A school should be prepared for these expectations and work with parents to achieve them.

However, it can be the expectations that parents place on their children that have the potential to be most damaging. These can lead to significant pressure building up on pupils who are desperate to succeed in their parents' eyes. For such individuals, failure may often be seen as disastrous with significant consequences.

Working with parents throughout their children’s journey, and their own journey too, is crucial to ensure the best outcomes for our pupils.

It is by working as a three-way partnership (child, parents and school) that the pupils can most effectively navigate their time at school with the most successful outcomes.


Developing resilience in our pupils is potentially the most effective, proactive approach to supporting them. Well-developed resilience programs should allow pupils to develop the skills necessary to deal with the ‘bumps in the road’.

Such skills can be learned in a variety of environments from encouraging pupils to experience risk and failure in the classroom to challenging nerves on stage or developing performances on the pitch.

Encouraging resilience in our parents may help support them in dealing with the disappointment when their child is perhaps not the best piano player or selected for the school hockey team.

By making parents aware of the school approach to resilience and helping them (and staff) to model it effectively will help develop it in their children too. Offering workshops, providing information at Parents' Evenings or sending infographics aimed at parents showing how they can be resilient may help.

Effective communication

It is essential that the ethos and approach of the school is communicated to parents even before they send their child to a school.

From that first day, open and honest communication is key. Dealing with smaller problems early on often helps avoid larger ones further down the road.

Support the parents

It is important to remember that parents always want the best for their children. Their opinions may differ from a school for a variety of reasons from culture to educational philosophy.

By providing information via presentation evenings, newsletters and more personal communication, parents feel better able to make the right decisions for their child.

Effective parental involvement is a key factor in a child’s academic progression, hence supporting the parents and the wider community positively impacts pupils.

Combine robust progress and achievement data with appropriate, regular and sensitive reporting to help parents understand their child’s potential

Realistic expectations

'Over-involvement' from parents can be challenging to manage. Ensuring parents are informed and given clear guidelines of when and how to contact the school can help.

Although a growth mindset approach is widely believed to be optimal for children to achieve their best, you may need to manage higher parental expectations. Helping parents, and pupils, to develop realistic expectations can be done through effective use of data and honest discussions about potential.

Combine robust progress and achievement data with appropriate, regular and sensitive reporting to help parents understand their child’s potential and empower them to make the right decisions for their child’s future.

Warning signs

Monitoring pupils closely for the warning signs of extra pressure from home is crucial. These could take the form of anxiety related to certain situations, over reaction to bad results or punishments that will be communicated home, or even not wanting to go/contact home.

Communication from parents can also clearly suggest that they are applying pressure either on purpose or otherwise.

A robust pastoral framework should involve the processes to identify, track and support individuals who are feeling pressured. Through sensitive conversations the sources of that stress should be identifiable and then appropriate support strategies can be put in place.

Those strategies will undoubtedly be unique to that child and may need parental support and input.

Support the pupils

Ensure that pupils who are feeling pressured or anxious are well supported. Having an array of options for pupils to communicate their concerns is very important, whether via anonymous ‘post boxes’, pupil buddies or approachable pastoral staff and appropriate times and space for such interactions.

Pupils need to feel their voices are being heard and that those listening are genuine and ‘get it’.

Train staff

Effective modelling of resilience by staff is a key driver for pupils. Developing the staff skillset to ensure they are prepared to work with the more challenging parents and pupils and have those difficult conversations helps to empower them in their roles, enhancing their support of the pupils.

Courses such as Mental Health First Aid can help identify and support issues in pupils, handle difficult conversations and usually also provide a lot of transferable skills for the workplace.

Open and honest communication is essential in bringing parents on board and helps them to navigate being a supportive parent. Pre-emptively developing resilience skills and ‘bounce backability’ in our pupils will also help to nurture and prepare them for school life and beyond.

Through effective partnerships between schools, parents and pupils we have the best chances to produce young men and women prepared to face the challenges of 21st century life.

Last Updated: 
18 Sep 2018