Is Tough Love The Answer?
I was reading a new report and basically this was the question they were asking, is tough love the answer? My initial thought when I read the title was no, not really. My own son for example does not respond very well to being told what to do. He is not what I would call a very ‘obedient’ child. Telling him to do something is most likely going to lead to a massive tantrum, it’s not going to make him put his shoes away.
Tough love does not mean control
The article was not saying what I assumed it would be saying, the article was actually more about when is tough love the answer. In other words, tough love is not about trying to get my son to put his shoes away. Tough love is for those situations where in a way we have to be cruel to be kind, like when my son wants to throw himself off a climbing frame to see if he can fly?!
As I am reading this article, and I am starting to understand what the article was getting at, I found myself agreeing with it. The article is right, as parents it is our job to ensure we do the best for our kids, we know what is best for them (not throwing yourself off a climbing frame) and we need to parent with their best interests at heart.
We are not our children’s friend, we are their parent. It is ok for them to not like us sometimes when we are doing something which is best for their safety or health.
Tough love does not mean being unkind
The article did go on however to say that there is a line between being a parent and being unkind. You need to be careful when using tough love that you do not start becoming controlling. In my example, about the climbing frame, there is a need for me to take control of the situation and bluntly tell him no, he cannot jump off the top of the climbing frame. It is dangerous and he may hurt himself.
However, tough love is not really appropriate in instances where there is minimum risk involved. You cannot dictate your child’s every move. Your job as a parent is to guide and support them into independent fully functioning adults. Not to control them.
So, when is tough love appropriate?
In pre-schoolers, tough love is most appropriate for those occasions where your child is about to do something which will either harm themselves or harm others. Outside of that there is little benefit to adopting tough love as it will not be affective. Pre-schoolers are hardwired to push the boundaries, it is part of how they learn about the world around them.
For pre-schoolers, the best approach to discipline is to listen to them, explain why something is, and then to show them the consequences of their actions. You will need a lot of patience and a lot of wine.
As a child gets older, you may need to adopt tough love more often. Especially in the teenage years when children start to become more rebellious. The older a child get, the more they start to realise that their thoughts and feeling matter, and the more they start to realise that they have more control then they though. They also start to realise that adults do not have all the answers.
This is quite a dangerous combination, as although yes, they do have all this power and control, they still do not have the comprehension and emotional intelligence to deal with. Let’s face it, when you look back at yourself as a teenager, how much to you cringe at some of the stuff you did, said, or thought!
Back to basics
When it comes to teenagers, you will probably find yourself using phrases like “because I said so” quite a bit! However, lets bring it back to basic. When your toddler was about to touch a hot stove or run out across the road, what would you do? Shout no or stop. You stopped the immediate danger.
Then what did you do? You explained to them why and you talk to them about it. You open a dialog with them about their understanding and knowledge, along with your reasons for stopping them.
The problems you have with teenagers may be different, and they may be more complex. Not staying out late at night, not getting involved with strangers, not taking drugs or alcohol. However, at the end of the day they are still so young. They still need their parents.
So, after you have stopped them getting in that car or drinking that alcohol. Once everyone has calm down. Talk to them. Explain why you did what you did. The listen to them. Try to find out why they wanted to get into that car or drink alcohol. Find out what is going on in their world, open a dialog with them about their understanding and knowledge, along with your reasons for stopping them.
Go back to basics.
Is there a place for tough love?
Yes, and no. I think tough love and because I said so does have its place. However, I still think talking to our children, trying to understand and see the world from their point of view, is crucial. We need our children to not just know but feel like we are on their side and we understand them. We need them to understand that we are not being mean, we are just trying to keep them safe.
Children are a lot more insightful then we give them credit for, they have to be as they are constantly learning about the world around them at an alarming rate.
I really do believe that communication is key. All other parenting and discipline techniques have their place, but without communication you will most likely find yourself going around in circles.
Communicate and teach. Knowledge is power.