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How to Be a Good-Bad Cop

You remember “good cop / bad cop”? ┬áThat’s where one policeman appears aggressive, mean and dangerous while the “good cop” gently allies himself with the person being dealt with. This allows the person to feel reassured and protected, and so be inclined to open up and spill the beans.

Some parents get stuck on being Good Cop. They want their children’s trust and good will, so they tend to appease their kids away from possible conflict and avoid setting limits or exercising authority. They may be acting out of loving generosity, but it can also be based on the parent’s desire to avoid unpleasantness.

Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t usually have the effect they’re hoping for. A child’s developmental level equips her for “give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.” Instead of developing self-control, courtesy, and the ability to work cheerfully and with good will; a child deprived of training often yields a self-centered kid at the mercy of his own emotions and desires.

However, there is good news for peace-loving parents. “Bad Cop” does not have to equal “Mean Cop”.

Children need you to set limits. And to be effective, parents need to be convinced that setting those limits is reasonable and in the best interest of their son or daughter. A parent who feels sheepish about “imposing their preferences” on their child isn’t the consistent rock their child wants and needs to depend on.

Here are some things a Bad Cop mom or dad might say:

    • “I’m setting the timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, it will be time for you to go to bed. No, not later . . . 10 minutes.”


    • “Please don’t whine. What other way could you ask for that? No? Then I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”


    • “We told you not to use the DVD player without checking with us first. No TV tonight.”


    • “What you said to Mrs. Purplemartin in the other room was rude. Go tell her you’re sorry.”


    • “I know you really want to go to Aloysius’ birthday party, but we’re visiting Grandma that day. Would you like to make a card and bring it over to him?”


  • “Absolutely no hitting! None! Come over here now please.”

What good cop / bad cop dilemmas have you faced? How did you handle them?

-Roz Dieterich, LMSW

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Crossroads Counseling PLLC   2019