Good Cop / Bad Cop — Terrible idea


Some parents try to “good cop/bad cop” to get their kids to do things they don’t want to do or to solve problems with behavior – Horrible idea. 

Lets talk about why:

I assume the idea of the good cop/bad cop originated in some precinct where there was one really nice and maybe overly flexible police officer, let’s call him Softy Sam and a partner of his who was a real jerk.  One day, they were trying to get something out of someone they arrested, we’ll call him Didn’t do it Don.  The bad cop spends hours yelling at, insulting and “breaking down” ol’ Don to no avail.  Probably due to his style and general demeanor, Bad cop Bill got frustrated and stormed out.  Softy Sam, after hearing this, went into the interview room, saddled up to Don, put his arm on the guy’s leg and says,

“I know how you feel, man.  I’ve been there before.  You get into a bad situation with one of your friends, you don’t feel right about it, but things go so fast you don’t have a chance to do or say anything and something really bad happens before you know it.  Then your scared and stuck…you know what I mean?” 

Don looks up through bloodshot eyes and nods his head.  Softy Sam says,”You wanna talk about it?”  Don asks for a cigarette and says “yeah.”

Genius, right?  Works on Law and Order all the time.  

Not for parents! (hear the CHA-CHUNG sound here)

Several things happen if you do this  

Parent splitting:  if this is something you do, you will not need name tags for who is the “good cop” and who is the “bad cop.”  The child will, at times of distress, need or desire orient towards the “good cop.”  The “bad cop” tells the kid to do something and it becomes more of a suggestion than a request.  Has this happened to you?

“Hey, buddy, I need you to clean up your room” 

“Mommy, daddy said I needed to clean my room…can I watch TV first?”

Whoops.  This becomes a cycle and happens more and more if you don’t watch out.

Definition of relationship: What are you really doing when you play the “bad cop,” always being the one to “draw the line in the sand?”  Do you know a “bad cop” at your office?  Do you want to hang out with him after work?  Nope.  Be careful your role as the “bad cop” does not become your role as a parent.   EEESSSHH.

Creation of master negotiators: If parents are taking different roles/sides, they are, by definition, not consistent with each other.  This creates opportunities when children learn the skill and art of negotiation by playing the game.  Be careful with this…it gets worse if you don’t watch out.

Leave the negotiating and the good cop/bad cop game to the guys who play police officers on TV.  

Be consistent with each other.  Always check with the other parent if you are unsure about something.  Talk about those decisions (outside the earshot of the children).  Don’t play against each other…even though it might feel good to be the “good cop” every now and then. 


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