The term tough love may seem self-contradictory but it is a reality and has a place in parenting. Parents are authoritative figures in a child’s life. They have to play the role of the guide, the philosopher and at times the role of a police person.
Children need to be shown what is acceptable behaviours and what is not. They need to be shown boundaries, their own and other people’s. The need to learn the rules of cooperative living. Most importantly they need to learn the consequences of their behaviour. This does need the parent to play the role of the ‘bad cop’ with them. Someone who is willing to have difficult conversations, someone willing to implement the rules with a firm hand, someone who makes the children bear the consequences of their actions.
Disciplining children is not abuse as long as there is no physical punishment, insults, mockery or putting them down. Discipline can be enforced without physical or emotional violence.
If the house rules say the younger children need to be home by a specific time in the evening, the parent has to enforce that for the safety of the child. If the house rules say children need to come and greet visitors, that is to help them develop their social skills. If the house rules demand that all the school work should be completed before dinner, there cannot be getting around it.
Disciplining children will look like playing the role of the ‘bad cop’ in the family. The essential difference is that that role is being played from the base of love and not the base of dislike or hatred. When children do something risky like walking on a ledge, doing a wheelie or going to the deep end of the pool where they are not supposed to a parent may shout, get angry and scold the child. This is to prevent any harm to the child. This is tough love and the parent should not feel guilty for their behaviour.
Demanding accountability for the time, money, actions of the children is the role of a parent. No one else will take up that role. In some families, it is usually one of the parents who dons that role. Children do not stop loving you or love you less because you are strict with them. In fact, they will have greater respect and will look up to you in the long run.
Some ideas on how to be tough in love
Do not indulge in physical punishments.
Do not insult or mock the children. Do not put them down in front of outsiders.
Do not say things that may affect their self-esteem.
Implement the rules consistently.
The consequences of breaking a rule should be predefined and not made up on the go.
Have the patience to reiterate the rules and the consequences of breaking them.
Children will sulk, cry, throw tantrums. Be ready for that and yet be firm in implementing the rules.
Learn to step back, relax and move away from the role as the children grow up in age. There comes a point where you have to let go and allow them to lead their lives.
Even when you are disciplining, reiterate your love through words and gestures. You are disapproving the behaviour, you love the person.
Tough love is an essential part of parenting.