Tough love is a term that is often used when parents treats their children in ways that some might call harsh, with the sole intent to help them in the long run. The use of tough love has been scrutinized by many as nothing more than reasons to be unnecessarily harsh and punitive towards kids who are already suffering. I believe we can use tough love with kids who have mental illnesses. This form of tough love means loving them enough to set tighter boundaries and allowing them to experience natural consequences. When our children are mean or act poorly with others who then reject them, we have to love them enough to not only let them feel the pain of that rejection but to talk with them about how their behaviors puts others off. When they don’t do their homework and we are stressed out by arguing with them, communicating with their teachers, and frustrated by keeping up with their assignments, then we have to be tough enough to let them live with the consequences of their actions, even if it’s a failing grade. Life’s experiences will begin to help us motivate them to understand their own illnesses and to work with us to help them not only manage their symptoms but also to manage their complete lives.
Tough love means not always avoiding the tantrums, tears, and rages. It means holding tight the boundaries that not only we have set but those set by society because our children will have to live by those boundaries someday without us. Tough love means we stop making so many adjustments to keep them happy because we feel bad that their friends didn’t call or they missed out on a school trip because of their behavior. And yes, it means letting them fail a grade or even letting them leave your house when they reach a certain age. Sure, it will be hard to watch them falter, fall, and sometimes fail. With our guidance life can be a great teacher if we use its experiences to teach our children. It will be tough, but we have to love them enough to help them succeed by not holding their hands and feelings so afraid for them. We have to be tough enough and love them enough to let them go so they can stand on their own two feet.
Angela Hargrow is a licensed psychologist with over 15 years of experience. Not only does she have a child who has been diagnosed with a mood disorder but also she has worked extensively with parents of children who have a variety of mental illnesses. She has used her experiences as a parent and as a psychologist to help families understand their child/teen’s disorder and to cope with the stressful impact that the disorder has on not only the child but the entire family. Used with permission
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