Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting
If you and your spouse take opposing roles in dealing with your
kids, you're not alone. Many parents take on the roles of "good cop" and "bad
cop" in the family. For instance, Dad is the kid's best buddy, and mom is the
nag. Or dad is strict and mom is a sympathizer.
Which "cop" is right? And should you be a cop at all?
I see two problems with the notion of good cop/bad
cop parenting. First, is the very idea that somebody has to be a "cop" all the
time. Parents don't need to be cops. They simply need to be coaches and teachers
for their children.
Second, what's really happening when parents become good cops and bad cops is
that the kids have learned to split their parents. The area of the split is
where kids go to get out of meeting their responsibilities.
For example, Tommy goes to mom and says, "Dad's making me clean my room before
we go to the mall." Or he says to mom, "Why do I have to clean my room? Dad
doesn't make me do it." When your child makes complaints like this, both parents
have to be supportive of each other. You have to be able to say, "These are the
rules Dad and I both have, and you have to do it or you're going to be held
responsible for the consequences." Then turn around and walk away. That's it.
Give simple statements of support. The more unified you are as parents, the more
likely your child is to complete his responsibilities, because he doesn't have
another way out. The only way out is to act responsibly and do what's asked of
But what if you don't really agree with what Dad is asking Tommy to do? If you
have a problem with a rule or limit your spouse sets or a request that's being
made of your kid, don't make a face. Don't sigh. And, by all means, don't argue
with your spouse about the issue in front of the child-or even indicate that you
are going to argue. Just tell your child he has to do what's been asked of him.
Then talk with your spouse later, after the kids have gone to bed and out of
earshot. This is important, because kids pick up on non-verbal cues from their
parents a lot more than you think. If your child sees that you disagree with
what's being asked of him, he'll bring up the issue again and again, to split
you and your spouse and to avoid meeting the responsibility.
Simple statements of support work when you use them consistently. When Tommy
complains that Dad won't let him play Runescape before he does his homework, and
you say, ?Your father said you can't play Runescape until you do your homework.
That's the rule,? you can bet Tommy will stop trying to split you and your
(Good Cop/Bad Cop reprinted with permission from Empowering
by James Lehman, MSW
For three decades, behavioral therapist James
Lehman, MSW, worked with troubled teens and children with behavior problems.
He developed a practical, real-life approach to managing children and
adolescents that teaches them how to solve social problems without hiding behind
a facade of defiant, disrespectful, or obnoxious behavior. He has taught his
approach to parents, teachers, state agencies and treatment centers in private
practice and now through
The Total Transformation -- a
comprehensive step-by-step, multi-media program that makes learning James'
techniques remarkably easy and helps you change your child's behavior.