Nursing Blogs

5 Tips to Keeping Your Cool When Dealing with Difficult Patients’ Parents


Picture the following scenario: Lucy, age 10, has just been admitted to the emergency room with anaphylaxis shock. She’s been stung by a bee and her mother rushed her to the hospital. When they arrive at the ICU, her mother walks into Lucy’s room commanding the nursing staff. She demands certain tests then and when you refuse, she complains that you don’t know what you are doing. You ask the mom to step outside so that you can stabilize her daughter. She leaves complaining about the nursing staff and walks away. You’ve just met a difficult parent of a patient.

When you’re a nurse, these scenarios are all too frequent. As parents are becoming more involved in healthcare discussions, concerns are rising that little knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge at all. Access to various information sources has created predetermined expectations of what a visit to the ICU should entail.

Sometimes it can be hard to remind yourself that parents are under an enormous amount of stress, and you need to remain objective. In fact, most of the times, good communication is enough to solve difficult situations.  Other times, you need to put a little more effort into handling the situations so that you can get back on track and provide the best care.

Let’s explore five ways nurses can deal with disruptive patient’s parents.

  1. Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Most of the times, parents’ disruptive behavior is a reaction to stress. Because of stress, Lucy’s mom felt that she needed to be in control to cope with her daughter’s illness.

Controlling parents, in particular, have a certain level of healthcare experiences, such as caring of a sick family member. Like Lucy’s mom, these parents have been the patient’s caregiver and have put significant effort into dealing with their condition. So, they want to ensure that you know about their effort and that you are following the same instructions as them.

Parents who are involved in their children’s care behave in predictable ways. For example, they might insist on being allowed to visit patients at any time, regardless or the hospital visiting hours or they might request to be with their child at all times. They often use the internet for information and have a predetermined idea of how you should care for their loved one.

While these behaviors might disrupt patient care, you need to understand that parents are under massive stress, and being impulsive will only make the problem worse.

  1. Ask Questions

Understanding the foundation of their behavior is the first step in dealing with difficult parents of a patient. Sometimes, patients and families will complain about everything when, in fact, there’s only one thing that really bothers them. If you can figure out the root of their emotions, it will be easier to fix the issues. That’s why it’s important to ask what is bothering them and assure them constantly that everything is under control.

  1. Be an Active Listener

Family members of patients want to be heard. They don’t want to slam the door and walk away. They want you to listen to them and understand their needs and fears.

A professional nurse knows how to listen actively. That means that when the parent is talking, you stop and listen to them carefully. Don’t let your mind wander off to your next task, but try to be present. By active listening, you can understand what’s troubling the parent and find solutions to ease a difficult situation faster.

  1. Learn How to Handle Yourself

Helping parents like Lucy’s mother is hard. You might think that you need to confront them to make them calm down. However, you would only perpetuate a difficult situation.

Learn how to develop efficient relationships with your patients’ parents. Don’t become defensive even when they are illogical or demanding. Instead, be patient and let them know that their thoughts and experience are valued and you will take them into consideration when caring for their loved ones.

Another important factor you need to learn is how to handle yourself around difficult parents of patient. Stay calm and objective as it usually has a relaxing effect. Maintain a comfortable distance and, most importantly, control your breathing. People can pick up nonverbal cues easily, and if you breathe heavily while they are agitated, they will feel it and become more anxious.

  1. Give Parents Some Control

Some of the primary triggers for disruptive parent behavior are fear and lack of control. Just think about it, they’ve just handed their babies to a complete stranger who doesn’t know them as they do. By involving them in the process, you can make them feel helpful and in charge of the situation.

Controlling and demanding parents can disrupt patient care, and they are hard to deal with. However, before you become defensive, you need to remember that their behavior is a result of fear, anxiety, and guilt if the patient was in their care. Do your best to take care of their needs and to help them understand that their loved ones are in good hands.


Oncology Nurse Diagnosed with Cancer After Her Physician Dismissed Her Lump as “Probably Nothing”

Previous article

Drugs That Make a Difference: Dr. Kishor Wasan on Oral Amphotericin B

Next article

You may also like