Blackmail and Bullying in Childcare

I think it’s important to clarify what I’m talking about right from the start. So to be clear, I am not talking about when children bully other children in childcare. Nor am I referring to those parents who seem to confuse childcare providers with nannies. And finally I am not even referring to parents who make an occasional request here and there 

No who I am referring to is those people who would seek to intimidate a provider into doing something by threatening them in some way. Yes, it happens and it is what I refer to as the real underbelly of childcare. Let’s talk about blackmail and bullying in childcare.

Blackmail & Bullying in Childcare

Strange but, I actually hope that no one knows what I’m talking about here.  I don’t think I will ever say that again on this blog. 

But in reality, I know that some providers know exactly what this post is about.  It’s about being intimidated by a client and possibly being coerced into doing or not doing something.  

I have heard it from providers.

The reason I am sure some of you have experienced some sort of blackmail and bullying in childcare is that I have heard it from providers more than once.

This can be really ugly!  But the fact is it is also unacceptable!

A few years ago I had a set of school-aged twins that I would pick up from our local school.  The first year as we were leaving I noticed a sign prominently posted.  It said, “This school is a BULLY-FREE ZONE”. 

I remember thinking, that’s sad to think a sign like that is needed.  I mean is bullying that much of a problem?  When I thought that I am sure that I was only associating the behavior of bullying with children.

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What is Bullying in Childcare?

That is until a friend called me a few weeks ago.  She said she was calling me for advice. 

Apparently one of her childcare clients was requesting that my friend install something in her family childcare home.  But when my friend resisted, stating that our licensing agency did not require such an action, things got ugly with this parent.

That’s ugly!

My friend said that the mom stood up and said that if my friend didn’t do as she had requested, she would disenroll her child.  Not only that but the women said that she would tell all the other parents that my friend didn’t care about the well being of the children at her childcare. 

Yeah really!

I couldn’t believe it.  I mean don’t get me wrong, I have had parents say some pretty sideways things to me over the years too.  But for a parent to demand an action and then to say if you don’t do something that they would deliberately sabotage things with other clients.  That’s ugly!

My friend was obviously upset and didn’t know how to handle the situation.  She wanted to know what I thought.  Should she do what her client was requesting? 

I could tell that she was blindsided and a little hurt too since this was a long-time client.

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Terminating is an option

My initial advice was to refuse the client’s demands and terminate their care.  And to be honest, I think that is what I would have done. 

My reasoning is that usually when you find that a client unwilling to respect your business, not to mention threaten you, the business relationship is seriously damaged. 

But my friend didn’t want to terminate because she had known the family for a while.  It turns out that the client was pregnant and may have been over-emotional at the time that she made those demands. 

My friend informed me that later the client called her back to apologize for what she had said.

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Other Providers Too!

The thing is I have heard this type of story before.  Another colleague told me about when one of her clients had decided to withdraw. 

She told me that her client said that if she didn’t refund the enrollment deposit he would file a false report with licensing.  He was going to be willing to lie to licensing and cause my friend to have to defend her business’s reputation not to mention a potential investigation.

Unbelievable UNACCEPTABLE!

TIP:  If you find you are having an issue with a client, do your best to record the events.  Especially written communications.

I’ve been there

I have even had a few incidents with some of my own former clients. 

I once had a parent who was demanding that I change all of the light bulbs in my home.  She said she had read that mercury could possibly escape if a lightbulb ever was broken. 

Yeah, I refused.

Childcare Client

Another client once accused me of not offering her child water because I was “probably trying to avoid changing a few more diapers”.  Turns out she really wanted a nanny and her husband wouldn’t sign off on that.

My point is, whatever the motivation, parents can say some shocking things.  Although, in my opinion, my clients’ comments didn’t rise to the level of blackmail, bullying in childcare does exist.

What does Bullying in Childcare look like?

When you think of blackmail or bullying it is important to know that it can come in different ways.  Bullying in childcare can come in the form of coercion, intimidation, pressure or threats to do something that the provider doesn’t want or need to do.

In both my friends’ case, their clients were obviously trying to intimidate them to get what they were demanding.  And in both situations, my friends needed to decide how they would handle the threats.

How to handle Bullying in Childcare

Even before there is an issue, one of the first things to do is to set boundaries for dealing with “client requests”. 

If a client requests that you do something that goes against what licensing mandates or your own business policies, it is important to be prepared to defend your business practices.

Developing key policies for your childcare give a provider a solid foundation to enforce their business decisions.

The second thing to do is to realize if you are experiencing bullying or blackmail.  Ask yourself –

  • Is a client asking you to do something that you don’t feel you need to do? 
  • Is the client indicating that they will retaliate if you don’t conform to their demands?  

If so, this is a form of bullying or blackmail.  Depending on how you are experiencing this, decide whether or not you want to continue a business relationship with the client.  If not, consider terminating care.

You are the provider, director, CEO, and the boss.

If terminating care is not your choice, don’t be afraid to stand behind your decisions.  Your childcare is your business.  You are the provider, director, CEO, and the boss.  As the boss, you make the decisions about what will happen with your business.

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Bully-Free Zone

I have written before about some pretty unexpected things when you get into childcare.  And you know, I would have to say that bullying in childcare is probably on that list.  You just wouldn’t expect it out of people.

That being said, most people would agree that bullying in any form is wrong.  I would definitely agree that in our childcare businesses it is especially unacceptable. 

Just like that sign posted at the school, our businesses need to be a Bully-Free Zone.

Listen, I hope that you never have an occasion to experience bullying in childcare.  But should you notice this type of client behavior, hopefully, this post has helped you know exactly how to recognize and handle it.

Tell me, have you ever experienced bullying in your childcare?  How did you handle it?  Please leave a comment below and let me know if this post has helped you deal with bullying in childcare.

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4 Responses

  1. I had a Father that treated my lead teacher with a lot of disrespect. He would drill her with questions in a very intimidating way about details so insignificant not worthy of discussion. One day, his stroller was blocked by a car in my driveway and he proceeded to berate one of my Mom’s leaving with her son. On one occasion I get a text after school hours questioning a laceration on their child’s face. I was at an event at my sons school and they sent a few texts so I replied. It was a tiny scratch and I have no idea how it happened and most definitely not what I define as a laceration. On another occasion I rec’d a text message after/around 7pm (we close at 5:30) they were very upset their son didn’t have his vest on, he is fighting a cold and how disappointing it was to find he was not dressed properly. We live in SD and it was probably 60 degrees out and their child refused to wear the vest saying “too hot”. I had a few other Moms complain about him mentioning how “creepy” he was and he said a few things that were inappropriate. My girlfriend was visiting from Seattle and was at my preschool. He walked in one day and apparently they knew each other. He tried to date her like 15 years ago and when she turned him down she said he started YELLING at her in front of all of our friends. I checked with all of them and sure enough, they confirm he is on the whack-a-doodle side and his treatment of women is well — not ok. I decided to speak with the wife about it the business interactions (I left the part out about my girlfriend). Well, let me tell you that was the start of a horrible idea. I asked that all correspondence be directed to me only (no more teacher interaction as it was getting much worse) and any inquiries after school hours will be addressed during school hours. The Father refused to talk to me over the next few weeks. I would try to engage, he wouldn’t look at me or talk to me. When tuition due came time, they didn’t remit. My policy states remit or lose your space bottom line. Since he would not talk to me, I assumed they weren’t enrolling. He started talking to me the last few days of the month which struck me as odd until he said they accidentally missed payment (of coarse he blamed his wife). I call BS but I just listened but of coarse he just started drilling into me about how he thought we were friends and how he thought we got along. After I threw up in my mouth a bit, I just said sorry but my policy is my policy. He proceeded to send me an email demanding the full names of all my employees and followed up to tell me never mind he contacted licensing directly (which I thought great, now he is making false complaints). He then sent me another email rescinding his photo release of his child demanding all pictures be removed immediately (I complied). Then another email asking for a detailed child care receipt that my tax ID was not sufficient (again, I complied). Ok Ok, enough already. Oh but no……he proceeded to write a HORRIBLE Yelp review UNDER HIS WIFES ACCOUNT. And the review my friend is the icing…….it started off with how I wore inappropriate clothing and flirted with him. OMG I operate a yoga based preschool and wear yoga pants and flirted? Oh jeeze. If only I could provide a visual for your full understanding of the big picture here. It was insane. I told my current families about it and on their own accord chose to write a review. He then updated his review pointing out how I solicit reviews and FORCED him initially to write a positive review (lie and how exactly do I force a grown man?). I then kept running into him in the weirdest places, my gym, in front of my child’s school, the pretzel place we go each Friday etc…..this went on for a few weeks with run-ins several times a week and then…… he decided to write yet another review under HIS own account on Yelp. Now, the reviews are so bad and ridiculous I have chosen to leave them up and not respond. What is so depressing is that almost every single statement is a complete lie, which I am sure both of them convinced each other is now the truth. Everything from what I charge in tuition to my employment practices. All of it. He said his child was treated differently and never took home art (but I have videos daily of them leaving with art, not to mention the dozens of text messages showing me his art wall and the likes/comments on my FB page). But I wont respond. He is a narcissist and he is looking for a response. I wont give him one. One of my enrolled families is a lawyer and offered to file a civil harassment case against him as it meets/exceeds the definition by law (turns out he has had a civil harassment case against him that was dropped, no surprise there). I have chosen not to proceed unless he decides to pick up the pace again. The best part…….turns out they found a new program even before he left our program. The entire conversation about losing his space was just an excuse to argue with me. But, I didn’t do it. I just stayed calm and listened. The good thing is that families have read those reviews and find it to be so unbelievably horrible it has improved my business and built a stronger bond with my enrolled Mom’s. Even the Dads are horrified over the reviews and I received a few messages saying how sorry they were that this happened to me. I certainly hope this is my quota for crazy. I just want to teach yoga, art and music to children. My son is Autistic and my daughter has an anxiety disorder. Our freaking children played together! It makes me sad to think a human is capable of such extensive lies but also publishing them to a public forum. But, people do bad thing all the time I suppose. I just hope I am never on the receiving line of such harassment ever again!

    1. J this is UNBELIEVABLE! Just one of the worse stories I have heard. No one would ever imagine what we providers go through dealing with (not the kids but) the parents! All I can say is you were a model of professionalism and should be commended for dealing with an obvious crazy person and handling it the way you did. And yes, I too hope that’s your quota for crazy. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

  2. It’s alarming to know that bullying happens even in child care. I’m completely aware that it exists in both public and private schools but I don’t have any idea that this issue starts early. Maybe it would be better if there are more books that can help people address this issue more effectively.

    1. It is alarming. I never would have expected to be intimidated by parents but from the stories other providers have shared, it definitely happens. I agree. Having resources to help providers be aware of bullying and how to handle it would be a great step in dealing with it. Thanks for the comment Zoe!

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