Working With“Challenging” Piano Parents

I have found that most people are very nice and mean well. I am really big into educating families about what is involved in learning to play the piano and what we as piano teachers do. I believe that when parents know what to expect and what is expected things run fairly smoothly.


First, let me say that I’m not being snarky or judgmental in any way. Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while knows that I have 5 sons of my own. All of them took music lessons and participated in sports, scouting and stuff like that. I know, without a doubt that I was, at times, the cause of exasperation for my boy’s teachers, coaches, and leaders. I always went out of my way to be super nice, respectful, and pay on time, but my Achilles’ Heel has always been organization and scheduling. On more than one occasion, one or the other of my two older sons showed up to an orchestra concert in a wrinkled tuxedo or with two left shoes. Between trying to run a studio of 45 students, holding down a playing career and raising a large family, I found it nearly impossible to stay on top of everything. Every time we got to the right place, with the right stuff, on the right day I considered it a small victory! So trust me, I have compassion for parents.

Looking at things from the teacher’s side is a little different. I have a job to do. Teach my students to play the piano. Which we as piano teachers know is a monumental and complicated task. Ninety percent of the time I have no issues with parents. Everything is, as they say, “copacetic”. No serious problems. However, now and again some things come up with a parent that impacts the quality of piano the education I am able to provide. Here are some of the challenging parent-types I occasionally encounter and how I work to resolve them.

I’ll take MY challenging parent-type as the first example. I’ll call a parent like me the “overwhelmed” parent. You know… their child is not always on time, not always prepared, sometimes shows up without his music or loses directions to the recital. Obviously, I can relate to these parents. My biggest advice here is not to sweat the small stuff. If they are late, I teach them for the time remaining. I never expected teachers to give my sons extra time if I was late, but I have had some parents in my studio who have. To solve this problem, I always try to make sure these parents’ kids are never last in the last teaching slot and I stick firmly to a schedule. I make extra copies of handouts and of course since my piano method is online and printable we never have to worry about losing or forgetting music. My experience with these parents is that they mean well but, like me, they are probably in over their heads.

The second challenging parent-type is the “Only Child Syndrome” parent. This mom thinks her child is your only student. Not only that, you have nothing else to do besides waiting for her to show up. Have you ever gotten texts like this five minutes before a lesson? “Sorry we can’t make it at 4:00 we’ll be there at 5:30” Huh? What are these people thinking? Even if I don’t have a 5:30 student this is just kind of, well…rude. In the parent’s defense, maybe they just don’t understand how a studio works. Make sure to explain everything in your studio policy from the very beginning. After that, if this kind of thing still happens, nip it in the bud. Immediately. Text back or just say no to the time change and be sure to charge for the missed lesson. I’ll say that again, be sure to charge for the missed lesson!

Challenging parent-type number three is the “Know It All” parent. I find this funny because these parents are never professional musicians. They may play a little, but usually not. Their child usually doesn’t practice much and therefore doesn’t play well. According to this parent the reason her child isn’t doing well is always because she doesn’t like the music you select for her or you don’t have the right teaching technique. These parents bring in music, make suggestions and tell you how to do your job…can you say INFURIATING? I know these parents mean well and want the best for their child, but it’s hard not to get your back up when someone is questioning your competence. I think the best thing to do in this situation is, stay calm and listen to what the parent has to say. After all, they are paying you and have a right to be involved in their child’s education. Take the time to explain your teaching methods to them. I have found that most of the time these parents are just trying to help and once they understand a little more about what’s happening the problem resolves itself.

Challenging parent-type number four is the “Hover Round” aka “Helicopter” parent. In my opinion, these moms and dads are very contentious and caring. They want to be involved in everything their children are doing and they want to help them succeed. These are great qualities, but sometimes they can be taken too far. This usually happens when a parent is overly involved in practicing and it becomes a battle of wills. Sometimes the kids just refuse to cooperate, other times the little whippersnappers will convince mom or dad that the assignments are too difficult. With these parents, I tend to be very gentle. I tell them that I know that they care, a lot. I urge them to take a break, relax and let me take care of things. I have had two extreme cases over the years where challenging piano parents were extremely over-bearing. Unfortunately, in both cases, the children ended up dropping out of piano lessons

The fifth and last challenging parent-type I’ve named the “Over-Stepper”. These are the ones that come early, pick-up their children late, drop off siblings, and let their kids run through your house. They don’t pay on time or try not to pay for missed lessons. Arrrgh! Most of these problems can be avoided if addressed in the studio policy and the policy is enforced. Although sometimes it becomes an ongoing battle and you have to continue to stand your ground.

So there you have it, my take on dealing with challenging piano parents. I have found that most people are very nice and mean well. I am really big into educating families about what is involved in learning to play the piano and what we as piano teachers do. I believe that when parents know what to expect and what is expected of them things run fairly smoothly. I am also big into educating myself. I teach in South Florida where I have students from all over the world. Some misunderstandings are simply cultural differences I try to be sensitive to these.

It is also important that families see you as the “Teacher”. Wise and honorable, dedicated and caring. This is easier for more experienced teachers. When I was a young teacher (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I can remember not feeling very confident. It doesn’t matter if this is your first year teaching or your 50th, we are all always learning, so carry yourself with confidence and your families will have confidence in you. Add understanding and compassion to confidence and you can have an awesome relationship with your piano parents. Which in turn, will help their kids become awesome piano players.

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