Online ESL and Parents: How to Deal with Disruptive Parent Behavior

Online ESL and Parents- How to Deal with Disruptive Parent Behavior 

Parents are an integral part of every child’s learning experience. And, especially when students are learning online from home, the attitude and behavior of the parent can have a huge impact on the student’s learning outcomes… for better or worse! In my personal experience, the large majority of parents are helpful, respectful and cooperative, but sometimes, even the most well-meaning parents can be more of a hindrance than a help. 

Typically, disruptive parent behavior will fall into one of two categories- the over-involved parent or the under-involved parent. If you’ve already taught English online for a while, chances are you’ve come across both of these types and know that they can undermine even the most carefully planned and well-delivered lesson.

Let’s take a closer look at these two types of disruptive parent behavior and discuss some strategies for dealing with each.

The Over-Involved Parent (or the Helicopter Parent)

This is by far the most common type of disruptive parent behavior you’ll encounter while teaching English online. These are the parents who answer questions before their child can get a word in, constantly interrupt class to correct their child’s pronunciation, interrupt your student while they’re reading or giving an answer to correct them or repeat every word you say before the child has a chance to speak themselves. They may also be over-harsh and critical in their corrections.

Usually these parents are simply trying to be helpful, but the effect that this kind of behavior has on a student’s progress can be quite damaging. Not only does it take away opportunities for your student to speak and engage with the English language, it also makes it harder for you to measure your student’s ability and progress. Perhaps even more worryingly, this kind of parent behavior can damage student confidence and decrease self-belief by sending the message to the student that they are not capable and cannot complete the activity alone. 

The Under-Involved Parent (or the Completely Absent Parent)

At the opposite end of the scale are the parents who are completely absent from class. Whilst this will not always be a problem, you will find that many students perform better and gain more from your lessons with a parent present in the room.

The following types of students generally will benefit from having a parent present in the room during their online ESL classes:

  • very young students
  • students who have trouble focusing and paying attention
  • students who have immense amounts of energy and find it hard to sit still for long periods of time
  • students who do not yet understand simple instructions such as listen, say, repeat, click or circle.

Often, I've found that simply having mum or dad sit in on the lesson is enough to ensure my students at the very least stay present at the computer (instead of running around the room!) and pay attention to the class. Parents are also a wonderful resource for helping students to understand basic online class instructions such as “click”, “circle”, “repeat”.

Strategies for Dealing with Disruptive Parent Behavior

  • During class, you can gently dissuade parents from being over-involved and answering for their child with a quick message in the chat window such as “I’d love to hear Buddy’s answer!”

  • If the behavior continues over time, consider using student feedback forms to leave feedback for parents as well. Focus your feedback on what you would like to see happen, not what the parent is currently doing “wrong”. For example, you might write “I would like to hear Buddy answer questions in class.” and not “Stop answering questions for Buddy!”.

  • Know your company’s policies on dealing with parents and disruptive parent behavior and do not hesitate to approach them for help if you need it. That’s what they’re there for!

  • Continually refocus the lesson to your student and their needs. Use their name when asking questions. Give lots of praise and use reward systems to not only encourage the student but to show the parent that you are happy with their progress.

Regardless of the type of disruptive parent behavior you’re dealing with, the key is to remain calm and professional. Focus at all times on creating the best learning environment and outcomes for your student. In this way, you can ensure that your student gets the most possible out of every class with you.

Have you dealt with disruptive parent behavior in the past? What did you do? What worked? What didn’t work? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear your experiences and learn from you!


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2 comments

  • Yes!! That’s the sign of a true pro – “Now I just keep teaching and move on.” Well said!

    I also love your line “Let’s see if Abbie can say it.” I’m going to try that one next time! Thanks for your comments!

    Kyla (Spark ESL) on
  • I’ve seen so many Helicopter Parents, it doesn’t even phase me anymore. I will sometimes say "Wow, your mom is so good at English! Let’s see if Abbie can say it " It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t. I used to get frustrated. Now I just keep teaching and move on.

    Sarah on

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