If you and your spouse take opposing roles in dealing with your kids, you’re not alone. Many parents take on the roles of “good cop” and “bad cop” in the family. For instance, Dad is the kid’s best buddy, and mom is the nag. Or dad is strict and mom is a sympathizer.

Which “cop” is right? And should you be a cop at all?

I see two problems with the notion of good cop/bad cop parenting. First, is the very idea that somebody has to be a “cop” all the time. Parents don’t need to be cops. They simply need to be coaches and teachers for their children.

Second, what’s really happening when parents become good cops and bad cops is that the kids have learned to split their parents. The area of the split is where kids go to get out of meeting their responsibilities.

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For example, Tommy goes to mom and says, “Dad’s making me clean my room before we go to the mall.” Or he says to mom, “Why do I have to clean my room? Dad doesn’t make me do it.” When your child makes complaints like this, both parents have to be supportive of each other. You have to be able to say, “These are the rules Dad and I both have, and you have to do it or you’re going to be held responsible for the consequences.” Then turn around and walk away. That’s it. Give simple statements of support. The more unified you are as parents, the more likely your child is to complete his responsibilities, because he doesn’t have another way out. The only way out is to act responsibly and do what’s asked of him.

But what if you don’t really agree with what Dad is asking Tommy to do? If you have a problem with a rule or limit your spouse sets or a request that’s being made of your kid, don’t make a face. Don’t sigh. And, by all means, don’t argue with your spouse about the issue in front of the child…or even indicate that you are going to argue. Just tell your child he has to do what’s been asked of him. Then talk with your spouse later, after the kids have gone to bed and out of earshot. This is important, because kids pick up on non-verbal cues from their parents a lot more than you think. If your child sees that you disagree with what’s being asked of him, he’ll bring up the issue again and again, to split you and your spouse and to avoid meeting the responsibility.

Simple statements of support work when you use them consistently. When Tommy complains that Dad won’t let him play Runescape before he does his homework, and you say, “Your father said you can’t play Runescape until you do your homework. That’s the rule,” you can bet Tommy will stop trying to split you and your spouse.

Related Content:
Your Child Is Not Your “Friend”
Are Grandparents Undermining Your Parenting?


James Lehman, who dedicated his life to behaviorally troubled youth, created The Total Transformation®, The Complete Guide to Consequences™, Getting Through To Your Child™, and Two Parents One Plan™, from a place of professional and personal experience. Having had severe behavioral problems himself as a child, he was inspired to focus on behavioral management professionally. Together with his wife, Janet Lehman, he developed an approach to managing children and teens that challenges them to solve their own problems without hiding behind disrespectful, obnoxious or abusive behavior. Empowering Parents now brings this insightful and impactful program directly to homes around the globe.

Comments (2)
  • CharuVerma

    Bang on! This has to be the code of conduct. Parenting is

    all about in tandem with each other. Parenting is no cake walk where one has to

    be good and another one bad. Parents need to set rules together for the whole

    family. Exercising control is their right and loving their kid is the goal. A child must be aware that he will be reprimanded

    for every blunder by both the parents. The good and bad cop only paves way for

    inclination towards one of the parents which alters the growth of a child and

    brings out a sense of disrespect and impertinence towards the other parent.

    Love your child to the core but make sure both the parents

    respect each other first and together strive for a better future of the kid.

  • Mike

    I think good cop bad cop works best when there is only one biological parent.

    As a step father (not legally, but de facto), I am automatically in a position where I cannot fulfil the disciplinary role in a genuine way. Therefore, GCBC is a viable solution, with the step taking on the good cop role.

    I don't contradict or conspire against mum - she has the final say, and I make that clear to the kids. But what I will do is speak calmly and understandingly and tell them their life will be a lot less stressful if they do the right thing. So I am sort of alluding to "make it easy on yourself", because they know that I know, and won't challenge, what mum will do if they choose the wrong path.

    The key is to show your allegiance to the other parent, but come across as sympathetic to the consequences if they DON'T do the right thing. This is like saying "I don't make the law, but the law will come down on you", without actually threatening punishment. The reason it's so effective is because they know the good cop has influence and negotiating power with the "lawmaker". Therefore, they are more likely to use the refuge provided by the good cop as a non-threatening space in which to resolve the dispute amicably. But it wouldn't work without that backdrop of fear of punishment from which the "good cop" won't protect them.

    It works.

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