Tough Love Tips for the Not-So-Tough Parent

Do you ever feel like you need to be someone else in order to implement “tough love”? Is it not quite who you are, but you know you need to be tough sometimes? When we try to be someone we are not, especially in our parenting, we can become inconsistent and confuse our children. It’s hard to hold that line. Yet, if we give up when we need to hang on, our children lose the compass they need in pivotal moments of life. So what do we do?

Here are some practical tips to keep in mind:

  1. Avoid comparing yourself to other parents. What you want to do instead is learn from them. Take pieces that you can incorporate into your parenting, and let the rest go.
  2. Look for strategies that will help you motivate your child to make better choices. How do you get them on your team with collaboration instead of manipulation?
  3. Know your child’s learning style. This will assist you in connecting with them in general, and will assist in getting them on board with any changes that need to happen.
  4. Identify where the undesired behavior came from. Why are they doing what they are doing? Why are they not listening? What is their need underneath all of that drama?
  5. Ask yourself, “Is this a hill to die on?” Not every hill will be. And yet some hills are a must! Do you know the difference?
  6. How is communication with your child overall? Communication is a two-way street. One person speaks and the other listens; then you switch. Is there a mutual understanding when you talk? When there is no serious issue going on, that’s a good time to figure out how healthy or unhealthy your communication is. You can avoid a lot of issues with healthy communication in your home.
  7. When push comes to shove, does your child know that ultimately you hold the final say? They need to know that you CHOOSE not to die on every hill and that when you DO press an issue, they need to trust you and comply. (Your part is to create and maintain trust they can depend on.)
  8. If you are in a serious situation (substance abuse, suicide attempts, depression, etc.), assess who can help and do it quickly. Sometimes tough love is about getting a third party involved to assist in setting and keeping the proper boundaries. Make sure the person you choose is someone you trust and respect. That will be essential.

The key in “tough love” is love. It’s not about yelling, hurting or scaring. When parents use volume and fear, they are usually looking for that “wake-up call” moment; they are desperate. If you can practice the items above in advance, you will be well ahead of the game; tough love moments won’t be quite as hard or as often.

If you are currently in a place where tough love is needed and you are not sure what that looks like, seek assistance. Educate yourself. It’s not worth the damage that can be done and the time lost. Get on a good track and then re-evaluate the items above so you are better prepared for next time.  

Prevention is your friend in parenting. Communicate often with your children, starting as early as pregnancy. Educate, understand and inspire your children. Parenting has hard days. When you find yourself in moments of uncertainty, feel free to contact me to schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation (951-240-1407 or You can also find information about our classes and other resources at

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