The Case for Good Cop, Bad Cop Discipline
A lot of people confuse discipline with punishment, or at least it seems that way to me. We sure throw the words around interchangeably enough don’t we? When the kids are in trouble we parents tend to say things like, “We’ll have to figure out how to punish you” when what they really mean is coming up with a proper form of discipline.
I grew up with my dad’s words in my head, “the punishment should fit the crime.” I too, was confused by what discipline really was over being punished.
About six years ago, I attended a seminar for parents on how to deal with difficult or “challenging” children. It was eye opening in how I was perceived to be disciplining my kids and the definition punishment and discipline that was provided explained the difference in such a clear way that I nearly jumped out of my seat, smacked myself on the forehead with my hand and screamed “DOH!” at everyone in the room. The instructors and speakers at the seminar described punishment and discipline as (and I’m paraphrasing here): To punish is to scorn or shame into getting the right behavior from a child, while discipline teaches a child the right way to behave.
I believe my dad was on the right track when he said that the punishment should fit the crime but maybe the better word for the statement should have been the discipline should fit the crime because that’s really what you want right? You want the way you discipline to help the child learn why what he or she did was wrong, you want them to learn from it and they can’t learn without there being a link between what they did wrong and why they should not do it again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made my fair share of disciplining errors and use the words interchangeably when I shouldn’t. I’m still learning as the kids are growing.
And because I’m learning and I want to make sure the kids understand why they are in trouble (if it isn’t abundantly clear to them), discipline in my house can be a hot topic.
The good cop, bad cop mentality isn’t just for crime dramas. It works in parenting extremely well (at least in my house); while hubs can come off as being strict and rigid, I often appear to be open and more willing to talk things out. This way we can come up with a form of discipline that works for the situation. Hubs and I agree that discipline is not one size fits all. We also agree that discipline should be creative, if not to properly teach the kids the right way to behave, at least to send the message that grounding or whatever the discipline de jour, it does not work for every infraction on the house rules.
I have always played good cop to his bad cop. I think that goes back to hearing my dad’s voice in my head whenever the kids would do something wrong or break a rule. I’m far more apt to talk it out or reason it out with the kids than hubs is. I’m lenient to his uber-strict discipline style. I’m a hug it out kind of gal and he’s a discipline first, ask questions later kind of guy. Of course it creates some riffs between the two of us but as I said, I talk it out and that means going to him and talking things out so that when we do discipline together, we are on the same page.
You might think that such a vast difference in styles would be impossible to work with but it really isn’t. We balance each other out surprisingly well. There are times when I will let things slide (picking the battles, always picking the battles) and hubs will pull me aside and explain things from his point of view. Sometimes it opens my eyes to something I hadn’t considered before and we are able to nip an attitude, a habit, or an action in the bud before it gets worse and the kids think it’s acceptable (when we both feel it really isn’t). Other times it’s me who is opening the hubs’s eyes to why I think we need to put our collective foot down on a situation.
Disciplining together is a balance and a give and take, which is why I don’t have a problem comparing our style to good cop, bad cop and why I think it’s effective when done right.
I’m always curious about what works for other families though so I’d like to know; Are you and your spouse always on the same page when it comes to disciplining the children or do you each have your own style that you bring to the table?