Setting Boundaries with Parents

Does Balance Seem Elusive?

While it’s tempting to throw yourself into involved productivity regimes and distract yourself creating pretty schedules with “family” and “work out” allocated primary spots, the issue isn’t time management.  It’s boundaries.

In my experience, boundary setting is particularly tough for those in caregiving professions and particularly for women. And while boundary setting is tough, it’s a learned skill. One that gets easier over time and pays huge dividends in your mental health.

A few general tips:

  • Be straightforward in your delivery. Maintain eye contact and project a calm demeanor. Breathe!
  • Expect you may need to repeat yourself in a variety of ways especially if you have a reputation for giving in.
  • Stick to your guns! It might not feel good at first. If you need a private cheerleader who commends you and gets you out there again and again, find one! Often you can reciprocate with someone else working on boundary setting too.
  • You can always defer a decision. Not feeling up to the boundary task that minute? Or maybe you were caught off guard? Don’t commit. Let them know you’ll need to discuss it later.

Let’s look at a few common, but sticky scenarios with parents of clients/students and possible responses.

The parent who catches you in the hallway for “a minute” that’s never less than 15.

“I can’t talk now, but could I ask you to send me an email with your questions/concerns and we can schedule a time to discuss them?”

The parent who wants a blow-by-blow of each session and/or progress.

“I’m so glad you’re interested in our work. Why don’t we schedule a time you can observe us in action.”

Or, “Communication is like physical growth. It can be difficult to see the changes on a daily basis which is why I prefer to report on a monthly/quarterly basis.”

The weepy parents who frequently asks for reassurance that their child will be “normal.” [Note: I am not referring to a parent dealing with a difficult or new diagnosis. I am referring to the parent who uses sympathy to elicit more of your time and attention on an ongoing basis.]

Again, you can use the previous script about monitoring change/growth, but sometimes this is a reaction to goals.

“Is there a specific skill you’d like to see (him) master?” or

“Is there a specific setting you’d like to see (her) better integrated into?”

The parent who calls/emails after hours and expects an immediate response. {Note:  For clinical or scheduling purposes, I do encourage parents to text/email cancellations asap.}

“I respond to emails and calls during business hours, (weekdays from 8am-6pm). If you need a special accommodation let me know and we can schedule another time.”

The parent who frequently “no shows,” cancels at the last minute or requests schedule changes.

A cancellation policy given and signed at the initiation of services should help curb this, but a reminder, “I need to discontinue services after two no-shows” may be necessary.

For the frequent schedule changer,

“My schedule is currently booked, but I can put you on the waiting list in the event another spot opens up.”

Does a different parent scenario come up for you? Let us know below and we’ll see if we can help!




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The views expressed in this blog are my own and are intended to inspire other speech-language pathologists in their own practice. If you are a parent, teacher or other educator, these ideas are not intended to take the place of treatment by a certified clinician. Read full disclaimer here.