Good Cop, Bad Cop

Raising kids is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to take on in my life. Even before your first child is born your life begins to change dramatically and you’re called to step up to the challenge of Parenthood. And damn is it a challenge… always… from Day: -280 until forever…

the sandlot GIF

But hard work comes with big payouts and the payouts I’ve received as a parent far exceed any of the difficult times I’ve experienced as a parent. And at the end of the day, it’s always worth it to work hard at being a great parent.

So I want to share one of the most effective approaches I’ve had in my journey as a parent. It’s something I’ve learned through trial and error and it very much works like the ol’ Good Cop, Bad Cop routine. If you’re not familiar with this routine it sort of goes like this:

  • Cops catch 1 of 3 robbers, they throw him in into a room, and try to get him to give up who his buddies are.
  • The first cop comes into the room (Bad Cop) and he’s a real hard ass. He starts laying into this robber telling him they have him on tape, they’ve got his finger prints, they’ve got all the evidence they need and they are going to lock him up for life.
  • The job of this first cop (Bad Cop) is to instill fear into the criminal. That’s his only purpose. To make this criminal start to worry, start to be concerned, start to care… and then the cop leaves.
  • After a bit of time, the next cop comes into the room (Good Cop). This cop comes in and he sits down with the robber and he starts talking to him in a calm voice. He says, “Look man, I know the judge on this case. I know this is looking bad for you, BUT… if you can work with me, if you can cut a deal with me on your buddies. We can make something work. We can get you back on track”
  • This cops purpose is to instill hope. By inspiring this hope within the robber he brings him back from the low of the Bad Cop and in return the robber is encouraged to cooperate. He feels motivated to help the Good Cop because he feels the Good Cop is looking out for him.

This is the basic run down of Good Cop, Bad Cop routine and in parenting we sometimes call this Tough Love. In practice, this technique is extremely effective in parenting and the balance between these two roles or the failure of that balance, is the real key to parenting success.

Anytime I’ve watched other parents struggle with raising their children it’s because they lacked effort in one of these two areas of Bad Cop, Good Cop. Either they are too often the Bad Cop or they are only the Good Cop.

Bad Cop parents are always coming down on their children. Always being hard on them, always pointing out their flaws, or jumping at the opportunity to punish them or correct them. And what happens in these cases is the child grows rebellious or becomes submissive lacking the ability to stand up for themselves.

Good Cop parents aren’t in any better position either. These are the parents that can’t say No to their children. They can’t find the fault in their child’s mistakes or they spoil their children at every chance. As the child grows older they learn they can do anything, say anything, and there are no consequences for their actions. And then what happens when they have to go out into the real world with this approach to life? They aren’t ready.

So why does Bad Cop, Good Cop work so well and what does it really look like? I’ll share a real example of how this has been applied in my life and why I feel it’s so effective.

One bright and sunny day my 7 year old stepped off the school bus and he came running up to me, tears streaming down his face. When I asked why he was crying he said it was because he got a bad grade and I thought, “Okay… a little dramatic but whatever…”

The next day I get a call from his Principal. Come to find out, this little rebel got the idea to draw on the school bus with a permanent marker. Now, in the scope of things, I could really care less about this happening. He didn’t hurt anybody and he clearly didn’t realize what he was doing was going to upset people (also he wrote his own name… so not to bright on his part).

What I was really mad about though was that he lied to me about what had happened. You see, to me, that trust, knowing that my kids will tell me the truth when it really counts is incredibly important to me. It’s the only way I can guarantee that as my kids get older and life gets hard, they will honestly tell me how things are for them and when they need help. Many teens and young adults struggle at these stages of life and pride or embarrassment keep them from getting the help they need. It’s important your kids can be honest with you.

After talking with the principle I was pretty pissed that I’d been lied to and out came the Bad Cop. I approached my son and let him know that I’d learned the truth. I let him know I was mad and that I was mad he lied. I dished out a punishment and I walked away. And even at this moment, I could see how much of an impact this had on him. He wasn’t just upset he was in trouble, he was upset because he’d burned a bridge with me by lying. THIS is what you want your children to feel. The guilt, the shame, the regret not because they are in trouble, but because they’ve wronged someone they love. And this only happens if you’re both the Bad Cop AND the Good Cop.

After some time had passed and I’d let go of what had happened I approached my son again. This time as the Good Cop. I sat him down and in a more calm voice I explained to him why I was mad. I asked him why he lied to me and I talked with him about how that lying made it harder for us to be best friends. That the lying, would ruin our trust and damage our relationship (now these are big concepts for children BUT I’ll tell you, start teaching them now. Don’t wait until your children are already teenagers to try and teach them about honesty and trust. If you do you’re already behind the game).

During this conversation we talked about his mistake, what he could have done better or different, and then we gave each other a big hug and reminded each other that we loved each other. I told him I was proud he was able to be honest with me in the end and that I hopped he learned his lesson but that also (Bad Cop) he still needed to make amends for his mistake, apologize, and make it right. He wasn’t happy about having to do those things, but he was ready to make it right with my support.

This approach to parenting is so effective because it gives children what they are really looking for in their parents. Discipline and Love. These two pieces are crucial to leading a happy, successful life and children need both. Discipline to help them stay on track until they are mature enough to discipline themselves and Love to remind them that they aren’t alone in their journey.

If you’re new to parenthood or you’ve been doing it for some time. Take a look at your strategy. Are you mostly Good Cop, mostly Bad Cop, or have you found a good balance between discipline and love?

2 thoughts on “Good Cop, Bad Cop”

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