Mastering parental good cop/bad cop

Good cop/better cop as a technique can be taken overboard, but my wife and I love our kids and use every tool at our disposal to keep them safe, to let them see both sides of the justice/mercy scale, and to keep our acting skills finely tuned.

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  • The good cop/bad cop has been acted out since movies were made, since books were written, since people have needed information from an unwilling source. Take this favorite movie, for example:

  • “If you don’t give me answers you’ll be swimming with the other stooges’ in the east river, see? I want answers now Billie boy!”

  • Bill Williams found himself pushed up hard against the unmarked squad car. He could smell the sandwich Sgt. Brutus had inhaled for lunch a week ago — pastrami on rye — heavy on the onions and anything else that wreaked.

  • Now Mr. Williams, we don’t want anyone to have to swim today” Lt. Dan purred, straightening his tie and flashing his impossible whites. “Maybe you could tell us what you know, and I promise that this he-man will leave you alone — for the rest of today at least."

  • Some of my best parenting skills I have taken from interrogation techniques I learned on Dragnet and Perry Mason. With kids involved, the only thing that changes up the mix is the love. My wife and I love our kids. Perry Mason lost no love on the dame who dunnit.

  • Me as Good Cop: "Your mother will freak if she knows you broke the bathroom door again after the last debacle. Fess up now and I will try to break it to her gently and tell her I already took care of it."

  • We change it up a bit because our kids are getting old enough to understand the process.

  • Sometimes, when I know they are in hearing range I say, just loud enough to do the job, "No, it couldn’t have been our son who put a dent in the car. He is an honest boy and has always been so careful!"

  • My wife replies: "Yes, that’s true, and our trustworthy son knows that if anything like that ever happened without him telling us, he would lose his driving privileges until the night his wife goes into labor. So if he had, he would certainly come to us and make some sort of responsible arrangement before the game this weekend."

  • Not really good or bad cop, but more of a loud word-from-the-kitchen-over-the-intercom-to-the-wise cop.

  • Or preemptive cop: "Annie sure is excited to visit with her cousin tomorrow."

  • "Yeah, that won’t be happening unless she turns in her online homework on time," says bad cop, who appears to assume that Annie is asleep in the backseat though he saw her text less that 30 seconds ago.

  • Another successful good cop/bad cop message delivered without pressing any send button at all. My wife and I should have our own theme music.

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  • However I am not talking about arguing in front of the kids, where dad says “no phone for a week," and before Annie can text the western world, mom says, “Let's not jump the gun, I’m sure she is sorry.” Dad shouldn't be the perennial bad cop discipline whack job any more than mom should be the permissive slacker.

  • Real power struggles aren’t for playacting for the kids benefit. They are for the therapist office, the privacy of a bedroom or fodder for a long talk and walk. It’s OK to not agree. Do it privately.

  • There are always commonalities

  • Alternate, negotiate, or compromise. Parents will always have disagreements. If you as a parent can’t reason out discipline on the spot, then both give in a bit. When Mom says 10:30 pm and Dad says 12 midnight, then 11:15 pm it is — not so hard if your focus is on the kids and not on being right.

  • Be consistent with discipline and lose the ego. Negotiate the hard stuff ahead of time so that all cops know the rules and the consequences.

  • Pick your battles. When there is something I don’t necessarily feel passionate about one way or the other, my wife uses the rock/paper/scissors method of united front parenting. That is my sign to her that I am willing to give in for this particular circumstance. (My wife knows that I am always paper.)

  • Good cop, better cop as a technique can be taken overboard, but my wife and I love the kids and use every tool at our disposal to keep our children safe, to let them see both sides of the justice/mercy scale, and to keep our acting skills finely tuned. The worse is when we get caught quoting a movie:

  • “I write articles, I make a small profit. With that, I buy groceries. The grocer makes a profit. We call it earning a living. You may have heard of it somewhere."

  • "Isn’t that a movie?" Annie says.

  • "You kids have convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young."

  • "Dad, that’s from 'Mildred Pearce.' We saw that last night."

  • "I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."

  • "Laura." They say. "Get some new material, dad."

  • But I won’t get new material. The old black and white stuff works just fine.

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Davison Cheney attended a university to became proficient in music and theater, preparing him to be unemployed and to over-react. Check out his blog davisoncheneymegadad.blogspot.com

Website: http://davisoncheneymegadad.blogspot.com

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