How do I politely tell an overbearing mother to back off?
Q: “One mother is constantly hanging around her young student, watching every class and interacting with her from the door. I think it would be better for her daughter to have a little independence. How do I politely tell her to back off?”
A:It’s best to be clear about structure and boundaries from the beginning. That way there’s a precedent to follow. If you’re not giving a clear message about when it’s OK and not OK to watch, you’re leaving a lot of wiggle room for parents who might have problems letting go.
For new students, especially in a pre-ballet class, you can have a period where the parent can watch, maybe even just the first
lesson, to give the child a comfort zone. Then ask the parent to wait in the waiting room or go downstairs and get a cup of tea, but let them know when there will be a parent observation day later on in the semester.
Be sure to explain what you’re trying to provide: Beyond just dance steps, you want to help students mature into more independent and confident people, and, while you understand their curiosity about how their child is doing, it’s better for their growth and sense of autonomy when they can be completely focused on dancing. It’s vitally important that students learn how to regulate themselves and to not have to rely on parents to motivate or guide them.
For parents who are awfully pushy, you might need to clarify that, as a professional, your time needs to be respected. If the parents have enough trust in you, whom they’ve selected as their child’s teacher, they need to let the process take place.
Dr. Harlene Goldschmidt, PhD, is a dance psychologist and director of wellness for the NJ Dance Theatre ensemble.
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