(This column was first published on Yowoto.)
I’m sure you’ve heard of the good cop-bad cop routine. You need to watch a few crime movies if you haven’t. This is an integral part of parenting that you’re going to fail at if you don’t know how to correctly use this routine with your children.
The most important thing about the good cop – bad cop routine is that it requires the involvement of both parents. You’re the cops; your kid is the criminal. Or, suspected criminal. That’s up to you to decide. In the movies, there are always two cops who grill a suspected criminal. They want valuable information out of him that will help them break a case. To do this, they’ve to be aggressive as well as smart. The bad cop is the one who shows the aggression, he threatens to hurt or harm the person being grilled. The good cop, on the other hand, plays it smart by trying to show the criminal that they’re on his side. He promises to let the criminal off easy if he cooperates with them. This is how, between the good and the bad, the criminal breaks down and reveals all.
Your child has not committed any crime, probably, but he or she is most probably not listening to what is being said. There’s something that the kid should be doing, but is not doing. And this is where the good cop – bad cop routine can come to your help. We use this routine to great effect when your son doesn’t want to eat. Normally, my wife is the one who plays the bad cop. She’ll threaten to cut off his TV time, give away his favourite toys to some other kid, or not speak to him, if he doesn’t finish his meals. This is where I have to play to good cop and tell him how he was able to beat me at some game the other day because he had finished his meal. I have to tell him how good his rice tastes, even though I had pizza for dinner, to coax him into eating it.
From my experience as a parent and a fan of crime movies, I can say that the routine works a lot better for the cops in the movies. This is not because they’re grilling actual criminals while parents are grilling their children, it’s because the criminals are actually scared. Children, on the other hand, fear nothing. Least of all, their parents. They don’t know what they’re doing is right or wrong, they’re just doing it because that is what they want to do. The criminals will eventually break, but the children will break you.
Most often than not, our good cop – bad cop routines have ended in something like, “Ah, leave it, let him do what he wants to do. He’s not listening anyway.” But on the rare occasions when it does work, we are not shy of high-fiving each other till our son realises he’s been had.