How to Deal with Difficult Parents

How to Deal with Difficult Parents by Heather Green

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of


One of the best parts about face painting is that we literally get paid to make people smile. Doctors are paid to manage your health, lawyers are paid to manage your troubles, and face painters are paid to create ohhhsss, awwwees, and smiles. Making children smile is the easy part. But most painters will agree the hardest part about our jobs, is dealing with difficult parents.

In college I read, or should I say skimmed through a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People, then 10 years later my sister recommended that I read it again. The book is a very famous book and even though it was written decades again the principles are still very valid today and have helped me learn how to manage difficult people across the board.

This was actually one of the nicest moms!
This was actually one of the nicest moms!

So how do you effectively deal with rude parents without offending anyone, making the children feel uncomfortable, or loosing your cool in front of potential clients?

The first thing you need to remember is that 99.9% of the time the parent is not angry with you, so it’s not personal. Once you can take the emotion out of a situation, you have a much better chance of controlling the problem.  When an adult projects their frustration, impatience or bad day on you in a crowd of people they know you have your back against the wall because you are in no position to fight with them. And that will work in your favor. In the book Carnegie emphasizes that people 1) crave attention and validation and 2) love the sound of their own name. So when I see myself entering a situation with a difficult parents I try to follow these 5 steps to help diffuse and redirect the energy.

  1. Situation: I paint with my back to the kids so that I can focus all my attention on the kid I am about to paint. The trouble with this method is that I can’t really control the line with my back turned. So occasionally I have the irate parents mad  because their child was next!  So here’s an example of how I handle  a “My child is next not THAT kid.. ” type of parent. I look directly into the parents eye and try to break their mood and I say with a smile… “Hi Mom good morning/afternoon what is your child’s name?” When you are in a mood, the last thing you think of is manners.. so I try to lead by example and make sure I start with a pleasant intro. Once I know the child’s name I look at that child in the eyes and say “……….I am SO VERY excited to paint you. Just give me one minute to finish my friend in my chair and then I can work on the next special friend to get painted.” Parents are VERY territorial and sensitive about their kids and you can usually break their mood and bad attitude if you show love and concern for their kids. I could be having the worst day ever, but if someone tells me my kids are cute it’s like a lightbulb that switches on and off. I will immediately turn that frown upside down. Also, once you acknowledge their demand they feel validated. Nothing escalates a problem faster than ignoring or fighting with a parent, so your goal is to work fast to change the mood to a smile.

    Photo courtesy of
    Photo courtesy of
  2. Situation: When a child sits in my chair I try to make them feel like they are the only person in the universe and all my attention belongs to them. So when I ask them what design they would like me to paint and the parent jumps in with a list of demands it’s like an instant mood swing. I almost always want to turn around a tell the parents to shut up but that would be beyond bad for business so I learned and constantly practice the art of diversion. I once had a father standing over me insisting that I paint his son like spiderman and on this odd occasion the little guy wanted to be Batman instead. The father was wasting a ton of my time fighting in the chair with the child, then the child began to cry so I had a wet canvas and my line of people were getting irritated. So I looked up at the father in his eyes (eye contact is SO important) and said “Oh my do people tell you that you look like George Clooney?” Of course he looked nothing like George f3b1a8d2fc89575428fd0b93b52e11276dc687410e3dd6877fb5837fd32dfec4but I was able to divert his attention from his need to control his child. While I had his attention I used every adjective in the book to describe how cool his Batman would look and that I would love to paint George Clooney like Spiderman. Of course the father was so confused and maybe feeling good about the compliment that he forgot what he was fussing over anyhow. I do not bring a display board so I literally have to describe the designs and create a visual image in their mind of how awesome they will look when I am done with them. So my tone and enthusiasm must be at a level 10 when dealing with picky parents.  The father in this case did forget that he was pushing his son to be painted like spiderman, but I have had cases where the parents and the kids are like oil and water. Especially when gender appropriate designs come into play. That’s when your people skills must be at their best. In another situation where a little boy sat in my chair and wanted me to paint him as a Frozen Princess, the mom flipped out on me. I knew that she wasn’t mad at me, but rather embarrassed that her son wanted to be painted like a princess. I smiled and looked at her in her eyes and said the whole world loves frozen and my 5 year son knows every song by heart. She calmed down once she no longer felt like she had a reason to be embarrassed. I then explained to the little boy that it was very hard for me to draw princesses but I could make him a snow dragon, or snowflakes all over his arms. The mom was so grateful that I didn’t paint her son like a princess, and it is not my position to encourage a fight between the parents and child. So, instead I look for a happy medium and ALWAYS  try to leave parents on a good note. After all, kids are my customers, but the parents pay the bills. So you never want to bite the hand that feeds you.
  3. Situation: We have all met or witnessed a pushy parent that touches your stuff, heckles you about pricing while you are on the job, and forgets their manners at home. Just because they display poor human relations doesn’t mean you have to stoop to their level. Remember, the child is usually caught in the crossfire and has to go home with that annoying parent so be kind to that kid, they usually have the worst end of the stick. I once had a mother with 4 kids, the line was closed, she was insisting that I was NOT finished and I was GOING to paint her kids. She was at the point where she was demanding that I was going to paint her kids. I was already running late for my next event and I knew that 4 more kids would really set me behind. So I looked her in her eyes and said I am so sorry but I have another party to go to and the kids are really expecting me to be on time. I wish I could paint your kids because they are GORGEOUS kids but I am really out if time. The mother couldn’t care less and hung out around my table adamant about me painting. Then she grabbed for my paint brushes and said the rude clown wont paint you so I will. Untitled design (1)That hurt my heart to the core, but as I said earlier once you take the emotion out of a situation you have much more control. After all these years I have learned that you cant please everyone and there is no cure for stupid, so I put together an “in case of emergency dummy kit” that has a really old bad brush and 3 old colors. When parents want to paint their own kids because they are impatient, rude, or waited until the line was closed to seize an opportunity they can use my emergency kit and break a leg!  I explained to the mom once more that I could not paint her kids but they could ether have a sticker or she could paint them. When I offer them my emergency kit I put the power in their hands, and after all thats all they wanted anyways was power to make the decision. So I pull out that kit and say here’s my assistant kit and I quickly start closing my things up so that they don’t think they can use my kit. Usually the painting by the parents is so bad that they put their own foot in their mouth, but it’s no longer my problem. I offered a solution, and everyone got painted. :)
  4. I am really good at handling difficult people, but I draw the line at violence. In my contract I have a clause where if parents (adults) put myself or children in danger then I have the right to leave the event and still be paid. I refuse to fight in front of children. It’s the worst example we can be and I will not participate in that behavior. At an event I once did for a free back to school program 3 adults started fighting. I packed up my things and told the event organizer that I could not finish the event because I felt the children were in danger and I did not want to encourage that. She agreed. One parent brazenly followed me towards my car screaming at me calling me names in front of her children. In that case there was truly nothing I could do except ignore the mom. There was no possible good outcome and she was clearly beyond manners and logic so sadly I just kept walking and ignored her. Face painting should be fun and enjoyable, and when it turns violent I choose to disconnect from those situations. Untitled design (2)
    Just as parents can make us upset and drive their children crazy, there are just as many parents who are fun, happy, and love the services we are providing so it’s important not to let one bad apple spoil the bunch.
    So keep these tips in mind to help you through the unpleasant parts of our job.
    1) You aren’t the cause of their bad day so avoid making it worse
    2) We never know what others are dealing with. At one event a mother was super irritated chasing around her 2 year old and trying to stand in line. She started screaming and yanking the 2 year old out of frustration. I saw it from the corner of my eye and told the girl in front and back that there was a little guy in between them but he had ants in his pants and couldn’t wait. So to remember he was in the middle of them. And I painted a smile on her hand with the word next on it and told her to stay in the vicinity but that she didn’t have to stress to stand in the exact line. She was so grateful and thankful that I helped her out she left me a tip. As she sat in the chair with her son she seemed so stressed and started telling me that her husband was just killed and that now she was a single mom and was very scared. We never know the battles people are fighting, so before we jump to the defense, see how you can be a problem solver. it usually works in your favor every time.
    3) Eye contact is powerful. By looking at someone in the eyes (kids too) you gain their attention and have a slight chance to take control of a bad situation. Eye control is also a sign of courtesy and respect so when you want to make a point try to convey that point with nice powerful eye contact.
    4) Bad news travels fast and can make people uncomfortable. If a parent starts screaming, complaining loudly and making a scene more people hear that then the ones that hear thank you. I enter every job, looking to gain more bookings, so if you cause a scene or fight with a customer you can almost certainly rule out more jobs from that event.
    5) Take the emotion out of it! This is not easy to do,  but its a learned practice and can be a life saver. Take a deep breath and learn to act with reason and no emotion. When a parent says something rude, smile and keep on moving. Its hard to fight with a rainbow so work on being a rainbow everywhere you go!
      Hope my little pennies of advice help you along you way and as always your feedback is welcome! Send it my way if you have a great idea to deal with difficult parents <3


    Happy Painting
    Your Paint Pal- Heather

One thought

  1. Very useful tips, thank you, Heather!
    I would add, I tend to involve the majority of people waiting in line in the conversation while I paint the child. This works well, as it takes their mind off the time passing as well as their legs hurting etc. I usually ask personal questions so they can talk about themselves-their favorite subject. Some moms will go on and on and highjack the impromptu conversation but I let it go as they are happily discussing and not focusing on the time, the line etc.
    If they get really impatient I ask the next couple of kids what they would like painted. It works because they have enough time to decide what they want ahead of time (and not take their precious time deciding while everyone is waiting) and they feel like it is almost their turn and waiting a bit longer is not a big deal.

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