The disciplinarian role in the family – the Good Cop, Bad Cop split.

by | Jul 21, 2021

Discipline. When you’re young, you hate it, but as time passes, we grow up and take on more responsibilities, have little ones of our own and suddenly start to understand the necessity of it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be sheriff and lawmaker of the Munian residence or that parent who has their kid grounded for “having too much fun”. But here we are, and I find myself slowly becoming him!

It all began when I came across a loosely translated quote (that stuck with me) by Frederick Douglas, “It’s easier to build strong kids than repair broken adults”. Powerful …right?

Building strong kids requires discipline. Without it, our children begin to lack the necessary tools to overcome life’s challenges or navigate relationships. This includes learning to respect the boundaries of others and to cooperate with peers in the workplace (Canadian Paediatric Society, 2004).

So how do we, as parents, build our children up without breaking them down? That is the primary goal of the disciplinarian and choosing which approach to take on each case. The Good Cop? Or Bad Cop? – let’s set the scene…

We’re in an interrogation room. To our left, we have Good Cop, a kind-eyed good guy always looking to see the best in our non-cooperative accused, who’s in front of us. To our right, domineering in stature, stands the iron fist of the law, ready to firmly uphold the justice system at all costs. That’s Bad Cop. Good Cop goes first… playing it cool. Good Cop attempts to befriend the accused only to be shuddered off. Good Cop then expresses empathy and offers a bargain deal to have the accused cooperate. The accused loses his cool and tries to overpower Good Cop. In comes Bad Cop with roaring autocracy! The accused (confused and scared) now shuts down as Bad Cop lays down the law with threats of further punishment for non-cooperation. When Good Cop eventually retakes the lead, the accused, at last, reluctantly cooperates.

This, with a bit of dramatic effect, reflects “the showdown” between parent and child. However, the result of Good Cop/Bad Cop is that the accused (child) ended up cooperating out of fear and not goodwill.

What if I told you another persona could lead the accused to naturally cooperate and obtain the desired result?

Enter the Attorney. The Attorney is an individual on the same side as the accused but who understands the law much better than the accused and can supply guidance in navigating situations where the accused may be heading for trouble. The Attorney is there to remind the accused that they are a good citizen, and they have the accused’s best interests at heart.

With the Attorney persona, the goal is not to try and control our kids or find a suitable punishment for their wrong-doing but more about explaining the clear parameters and consequences for breaking the rules so that they learn how to discipline themselves. That’s the role of discipline and how it should ideally work to build a child up (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education).

So how would one implement the Attorney persona? The following tips will help you towards stepping into the disciplinary role the right way.

Understand the Law – Ensure that both parents understand the laws created for the family unit and why those laws are there. These are explicitly clear rules that apply to all family members in the household. Be consistent in upholding these and acknowledge the consequences for breaking the rules.

Example:

  • Rule: Make sure we pack up and put away our things as soon as we’re done playing
  • Reason: We wouldn’t want anyone to trip or fall over our stuff and get hurt. Our stuff could break too!
  • Consequence: Confiscate the left-out item for the rest of the afternoon

Be on the same team – This encourages team sentiment when correcting behaviour. When correcting an action, help your child understand the scenario and avoid using separational terms like “I” and “you”. Use “we” instead. This allows the child to identify you as their Attorney rather than the opposing Cop on patrol.

Example: You walk in on your child drawing on the wall.

  • Cop Response – “Noah, Didn’t I buy you a book to draw in? Why would you draw on my walls? This isn’t the place to draw. Go put your crayons away and come clean up this wall with me!”
  • Attorney Response – “Noah, where’s our book? There are so many pages to draw on and the pages won’t eat up our crayons. Let’s find it and draw something cool in there–but first, we need to get this wall cleaned up!”

Navigate with them – Sometimes, children don’t know what to expect of their day and have anxieties or outbursts when confronted with an abrupt change of activity. Try verbally preparing them for shifting activities or for new experiences so that they know how to act and avoid a large adverse reaction.

Example:

  • “In a few minutes, we’ll need to pick up the toys and get ready to go home”.
  • “Dad’s going to bring our food in a moment; it’s just a bit hot – we need to be careful”.

Personally, I think that the days where strict environments yielded strong children are long gone. Discipline is no longer about instilling good behaviours through regiment but inspiring good morality through guidance and example. Be your little one’s best Attorney ever, and I’m sure they will flourish with your support!

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References

Canadian Paediatric Society. (2004). Effective discipline: A healthy approach. Paediatrics & Child Health, 43-44. Retrieved from www.verywellfamily.com: https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/9.1.43

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. (n.d.). Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. Parenting Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK402020/

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KRESAN MUNIAN, our current Guest Editor is a creative thinker. When he is not lecturing or mentoring his construction management students, you will find him hanging out with his wild-at-heart son, Noah (2), and expecting bride Natanya.

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