What Is Tough Love Parenting?

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Tough love parenting involves harsh or stern measures meant to help the child in the long run. Stringent rules and tough discipline characterize it. On some occasions, it strongly resembles authoritarian parenting.

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Experts say that rigidness does not promote children’s proper growth, but it has proven to have some benefits, especially in children five years old and younger. However, the available research on tough love parenting tends to concentrate on its effects to demonstrate a need for better and more logical strategies.

Tough Love Parenting Strategies

Tough love parenting can be difficult to apply because the child often becomes rebellious. However, if executed properly, the child’s behavior could drastically improve. Below are some ways to implement tough love parenting:

  1. Respect. Parenting based on mutual respect is the best and most fulfilling. Respect the child and teach the child to show respect in return.
  2. Be firm. Sometimes parents have to do whatever it takes to protect their child from harm. Even though their methods may be harsh, if the parents stay firm and mean business, the child will learn to take responsibility. In the process, the child needs to understand that their parents will do anything to protect them.
  3. Consistency. Being consistent will teach the child to take their parents seriously. They may be sulky at first, but they will eventually yield when they see that the parents are not relenting.
  4. Show care and curiosity.  Make a conscious effort to be in the child’s life and be aware of all the child’s activities and friends. Involvement, coupled with an emotional connection through demonstrations of love and affection, will encourage the child to open up and improve communication between the parents and their child.
  5. Clarity and conciseness. Let the child know what the rules and expectations are and what the consequences are for breaking them. If need be, write down all the rules so the child can refer to them. Be open and clear to prevent misunderstanding.

When to Use Tough Love Parenting

  1. Lazy children. One reason to use tough parenting strategies is that the child is lazy and avoids chores and responsibility. Implement measures that help reform the child’s behavior. If necessary, withdraw privileges until the child fulfills his or her responsibilities.
  2. Forgetful children. Some children forget things often. For example, a child may forget to bring home his or her water bottle after school. One tough love strategy is to let the child go without water for a few hours to learn from the mistake.
  3. Disobedient children. Chronic rule breakers may need tough love parenting to get them back on the right path. For example, if a child watches movies or plays games long past the allotted time, consider temporarily withdrawing those privileges until they learn to obey the rules.

Tough love parenting requires a lot of patience, calmness, and consistency to be effective. Experts say that, if implemented correctly, tough love parenting produces children who are self-conscious and who can handle many situations more easily. Thus it can ultimately have some lasting, positive effects.


  • Pieper, Martha Heineman, and William J. Pieper. “It’s Not Tough, It’s Tender Love: Problem Teens Need Compassion That the ‘Tough-Love’ Approach to Child-Rearing Doesn’t Offer Them.” Child Welfare 71, no. 4 (1992): 369–377. Retrieved from https://www.marthaheinemanpieperphd.com [pdf]
  • Jordan, Bill. Social Work and the Third Way: Tough Love as Social Policy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000.

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