Establishing limits for children is part of the tough love process.

Tough Love Methods

by Doug Hewitt

Tough love is a methodology for dealing with someone who presents challenges in behavior. Tough love is typically associated with problem teenagers, although its principles and methods can be applied to other relationships. Tough love implies that there is love, but that fact should not translate into becoming a pushover for the loved one. While parents may love their teenage children, an absence of rules and accountability can lay the groundwork for trouble ahead.

1. Set Limits

Setting limits is an important part of tough love. Children, including teenagers, need to know ahead of time what the limits are, so they need to be discussed. Another way to think about this is the establishment of rules, and making sure everyone knows what those rules are. Discussing the rules and limits in advance allows an opportunity to dispel any misunderstandings. A discussion can also help parents with the justification to ignore pleas of ignorance for children who break the rules.

2. Take a Stand

When children break rules, they may try to wriggle out from any consequences that ensue. Children can be good at playing at the emotions of parents, who, of course, love their children. Tough love means taking a stand when rules are broken. This is not a question of forgiveness, but of children facing the consequences of their actions.

3. Establish Consequences

Children need to understand that there are consequences to rules being broken. If there are only simple, kind-hearted reprimands resulting from rules being broken, the children may opt to continue to break the rules because there are no real consequences to their actions. Whether it is grounding the children or taking away privileges, part of tough love is establishing consequences for broken rules and then taking a stand and ensuring that those consequences get enacted.

4. Establish Acceptable Results

While rules need to be established and vigorously enforced, expectations of behavior need to be established. For example, for children who are having behavior problems that are resulting in low grades at school, rules may be established for behaviors, but the bottom line results from school work also need to be established. It’s important that children understand these bottom-line expectations ahead of time. If grades need to come up to a minimum of a C average, then this can be established by the parents as the minimum acceptable result. As with rules, consequences need to be established for children who fail to meet the minimum expected results.

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