When to Give Tough Love

Today’s Topic: When to Give Tough Love

Hello everybody.  I’m coach Rebecca Smith with Complete Performance Coaching.  I’m here to answer a question from one of the moms in the PerformHappy community.  She sent a question into the private Facebook group and I thought I’d bring it live because it’s such a good one and it’s one that I needed to look at.  Isn’t it funny how that always works?

So here’s the question from a gymnastics mom.  She asks,

Q: “When is it okay to use tough love?”

I asked her to tell me more and explain the situation?  Her response was everything.

“I am bending over backwards to get her into a homeschool program.  Her head floor coach gave her an assignment for today since the coach was out of town and she came up with excuses to not do it.  I never used to feel like this, but I feel more invested in her future than she does. “

I can so relate.  I’m sure there are many parents out there that are banging their head into the wall going, “Why won’t this kid just take the help that I am offering?  What’s the problem?  I’m giving them everything they need, need.  Why is this so hard?”

Positive Discipline

Positive discipline is something that I use with my four-year-old, and I’m jazzed that I know about it for when she gets older because it’s something that I found useful.

Kind & Firm

One of the tenants of positive discipline is that you are kind and firm, and the “and” is the critical part.  I had both ends actually.  My mom and my stepdad did more of the firm but not kind, old school parenting –  “Because I said so!  Don’t ask questions,” or “You’re grounded”.  I also had this “Disneyland Dad” who was like, “Oh, we don’t want to be grounded.  Let’s go to Disneyland.  That’s not fun.” 

I had both sides, but what I needed, and what most kids need, is kind and firm.  When you’re in that old school mentality, you’re creating compliant children.

My Stepdad was a police officer.  He had police officer friends who could just shoot a look at their kids and they would stop doing what they were doing and they would listen, they’d tow the line, and he wanted that with me. I’m in for it with my daughters if they’re anything like me. I was resistant, I didn’t feel respected, and I basically was completely unempowered by that strategy. I became this entitled princess. Neither of those is ideal and neither of those was what my parents were out to create.

What do you want for your child?

If you were to come up with one word or phrase to describe how you would like your daughter, your son, your athlete to turn out, what’s that word? For me, it was independent and capable. That was the other one that came to mind. Others that I’ve heard are:

  • Happy
  • Balanced
  • Fulfilled
  • Productive
  • Self-reliant
  • Responsible
  • Functioning
  • Kind
  • Thoughtful
  • Loving
  • Inquisitive
  • Confident

If you’re giving tough love – shaming, giving lectures, taking away privileges, punishing… is that contributing to the person that you want them to be?

I had this run-in with my daughter. We came back from camping and it was my birthday. I was in “entitled princess mode” and wanted everybody to take care of me and be sweet to mom. Of course, what happens is she’s just a complete nightmare. We’d been camping for four or five days, she was dirty and tired and not into compliance whatsoever. My behavior was punitive. “Nope, we’re going to sit in the car. No, we’re not going to have any fun. You’re going to go over here.”

I was in the mode of, “I’m the parent, I can’t handle it. You need to be different, be compliant, or get out of my way.” Is that teaching her to be independent and capable? Is that empowering her and respecting her? No, that’s teaching her when somebody gets mad, you follow directions. Do I want that to be who she is when she’s 24? Do I want her to cower to a mean boss, mean roommate, or mean teacher, or do I want her to stand up for herself and ask questions to clarify?

Shifting the Tone

Obviously, she’s four, so we’re shooting into the future here, but is the way that I react to her, nurturing her into the woman that I want her to become as of yesterday? No, it wasn’t. Today, the same behavior was coming up, so I said, “All right girl, let’s talk.” We sat down and I looked her in the eye and I said, “Let’s talk about what we’re going to do here. Let’s come up with a plan. What do you think is the right thing to do?”

Empower Your Child

I empowered her and I said, “This is the way that I’m feeling and I’m sorry about my part, which was this, this, and this. What are we going to do if this comes up again?” She decided that we should have three chances and at the end of three chances, she’d take a little quiet time. Great! We walked downstairs, everybody was cool, and from there forward, she’s been pretty great because she was brought into the solution. That allows her to be independent. It allows her to be capable, allows her to be responsible. It allows her those things that I want for her.

Staying Firm

On the other side, it wasn’t like I just kept letting her beat me over the head with a bucket, another one of the fun birthday gifts I got yesterday, it’s about being kind and firm. It’s looking her in the eye, connecting, and problem-solving together. It’s not cool to hit mom over the head with a bucket, but can I involve her in creating that independent, responsible, reliable person that I want her to grow up to be?

That’s where the good questions come in. “What’s happening for you? I see that you’re upset. I’m upset too. Let’s talk about how that feels. That feels like this in my body. Can you feel that in your body? What could we do differently next time that might be a little bit less crazy and result in this unfun situation?”

It’s all about those good, open, honest, curious questions.

Now, mom, if you’re asking, “Why am I doing all this?” Well, that’s a great question. Why don’t you talk to your child and say, “Hey, there are a lot of things that we need to do to get into school. How can I best support you in getting this together?” You’re basically saying this is your thing, but the firm part is allowing them to fail if necessary. Here are a few examples to illustrate this:

Baby Bird

One of them is the baby bird. It’s not nice for mama bird to kick baby bird out of the nest. The baby bird is probably saying, “No mommy, I don’t want to. That doesn’t sound very good,” but the bird has got to kick the baby out so that it can learn to fly in time for its wings to develop and to learn how to, how to fly.

If the mom had gone, “Oh, you don’t want to get out of the nest? Okay, it’s okay. You can stay a little longer,” then she has this handicapped bird.

The Boy and the Butterfly

Another example is the little boy with the chrysalis. He sees that a butterfly is trying to break out and it sees its suffering. He wants to break that butterfly out so that it doesn’t have to suffer, and then the butterfly dies because it hasn’t built strength through the struggle that it needs to in order to be that beautiful butterfly.

Our job as parents is to allow our children to fail with support.

Let’s say your athlete gets a bad score on a test, here are the words to use:

I can see this is very upsetting to you. It can be very disappointing when we don’t get what we want.

Freedom to Fail

Period. End of discussion. If there is suffering that has happened because we’ve allowed them to suffer, because we’ve given them the freedom to fail, we can go, “I can see this as hard for you. It can be very disappointing when we don’t get what we want,” and that might mean she doesn’t move up to the next level because she doesn’t get her skill because she didn’t do the assignment. If she doesn’t get into this school because she didn’t write the essay because then she might feel disappointed. That would be enough suffering in itself. A whole lecture of “I can’t believe you did this” and “I set you up for success and you did nothing” and “this is all your fault”, that lecture that just piles the blame and shame on top.

Developing Resilience

That is not what creates these independent, capable, happy people. We want to be able to push them out of the nest, allow them an opportunity to fly or not fly, and be there to cradle them when they are in the need of that support. It’s not fixing it for them, it’s not paving the way for them to have a really easy ride, it’s being there to support them and go, “Oh honey, this is so hard. I’m sorry. That has to be the worst,” and that’s it. Then they develop the muscles of resilience.

So my long answer is kind and firm, both of them together. Kind is not always nice, but kind is not punitive. It’s not shaming, it’s not blaming, it’s honest and direct. It’s involving the child in the situation and bringing everybody on board, being honest. At the end of the day, after a hard practice, not coaching, not suggesting, just going, “Oh honey, that sounds rough.” The end. It doesn’t have to be this whole thing. That way, you can be invested in her future by allowing her to get resilient.

Letting them Fail

I talked to this college recruiting expert and I asked, “What can the moms of these adolescent girls and boys do to set the kids up success in college?” She said, “Let them fail. Let them fail early. Let them fail often because then they learn to pick themselves up and try again.”

You don’t have to think, “If I don’t pave the way for her to have a beautiful, amazing, perfect life, she’s not going to be happy.” No. If you help the child, then it doesn’t matter what the road is in front of her. You help her support her in feeling her feelings, doing the best she can, respecting her, kind and firm.

Remember Who You Want to Raise

Hopefully that answers your question. Always bring it back to what’s the kind of kid that you want to raise? What’s the adult that you want to raise? Then allow that to be your guidepost for how you are going to deal with this situation. Is this one little thing as important as having a resilient child? I don’t think so, but of course I can’t decide your family values for you.

Thank you for being here and I will see you soon.  You can feel free to send me questions to rebecca@performhappy.com and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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