Tough Love? Disciplining Your Child

girl in time out chair

The concept of "tough love" has been used for over 40 years, most often in the context of helping addicted adults. A parent or adult sibling might practice "tough love" and cut off all monetary support while encouraging the addict to enter a rehabilitation program. Similarly, parents of troubled tweens and teens sometimes practice "tough love parenting" and refuse to intervene in their child's self-created problems, letting them suffer the consequences of their own actions.

Tough Love: Making Appropriate Limits

The concept of "tough love" does not necessarily mean this parenting style is tough on the child. It is largely tough on the parents. Parents must stand strong and do the best thing for their child, no matter how hard it is for them to watch their child's suffering, failure, or disappointment.

"Boot camps" for extremely troubled teens are a well-known facet of tough love parenting. Other forms of professional help, like counselors and rehabilitation programs, are utilized to help teens with particularly severe issues. Yet many aspects of the tough love parenting approach can easily be applied to all tweens and teens. In this way, it is very closely related to the "authoritative parenting" style.

mother scolding son

Key Concepts of Tough Love Parenting

Set clear and age-appropriate expectations and limits.

Be clear with your child about what you expect (chores, behavior, schoolwork, etc.), and be clear about limits (curfew, dating, screen time, etc). As your child gets older and is ready for more responsibility, or their school/work/activity schedule changes, you will need to adjust accordingly.

Give your tween/teen respect and a safe environment in which to learn.

Showing your teen respect, and giving them space and guidance as they grow will help them become a functioning adult. Mistakes are to be expected as a part of both growing up and gaining experience. Your child should know you love them and are always available for advice or just conversation.

Practice discipline with logical consequences.

Rather than punish out of anger, use discipline with thoughtfulness and logical consequences. For example, you can make it clear to your tween or teen in advance that cyber-bullying may result in the loss of social media privileges, while breaking or losing someone else's property will require financial restitution. Be creative and logical, not corporal or punitive. Be very clear as to the details of the consequence, and do not back down later, as it sends the wrong message.

parenting scolding child

Teach good judgment and choice-making skills.

Let your tween/teen make their own choices and learn from the consequences (good and bad). Do not always intervene and make excuses for your child's choices. For example, if they have forgotten to study for a test, skipped practice, or arrived late to work, they need to learn from the consequences of their actions: a bad grade, position on the bench, expulsion or lay-off.

Take charge if your teen/tween is in over his/her head.

If your teen cannot resolve a personal issue at school, with friends, with a coach or a neighbor, you need to take charge and intervene. If your child has more serious issues such as drugs and alcohol, extreme defiance, depression, or self-harm, tough love parenting advocates encourage getting professional help.