Therapists Say Tough Love Parenting Isn’t Supposed To Be Tough

Disciplining children is a daunting responsibility for parents, even more so for foster parents when the child is not biologically theirs. People often associate discipline with punishments; however, this should not be the case. According to therapists, a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma can manifest emotional and behavioral issues. Many children lack the necessary skills in problem-solving, coping, and emotion regulation. Foster parents have the responsibility to teach children proper behavior and new talents with positive discipline.

“Parenting Traits:· Emphasis on control· Strict rules and punishment· High expectations· May withdraw affection as punishment· Demand respect and obedience, no negotiation· Minimal communication, no explanation or reasoning” – April Lyons, MA, LPC 

Tough Love

You might have probably heard of tough love and how parents use this simplified approach to discipline their unruly kids. But what is tough love? Tough love is imposed on children to show them that punishments are for their good. It makes use of consequences and boundaries to teach them to take responsibility for their actions. However, imposing tough love or negative punishments on children who have gone through abuse and neglect may worsen their behavior.

Certain behaviors stem from past experiences. A foster parent needs to understand the kids’ complicated past and its effect on them. For example, a child lies not to deceive parents maliciously but to protect himself from being hit. Parents need to practice tough love that is not harsh but is affectionate and empathetic. Positive discipline will take every ounce of patience, love, and understanding foster parents have got.

“Most parents do not realize that children are exceptional at overhearing and listening,” said Kay Sudekum Trotter, Ph.D., LPC-S.


Tough Love To Avoid

  • Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment has been a widely debated topic on child discipline. Numerous regulating agencies have prohibited it because acts of physical punishments can deepen the child’s emotional wounds.

  • Lengthy Time-outs

Sometimes parents give misbehaving kids a time-out for a week or longer. This punishment is not particularly useful for younger children. Further isolating foster children may not work well.  The child needs an explanation as to why he is grounded. The time-out needs to be carried out in short amounts of time only. We’re talking minutes. After the timeout, carry on as though the bad behavior never happened.

Kelly Burkett, LPC said, “Almost everything in life comes with a how-to manual – everything except raising a child.”

Positive Discipline Tips To Follow

  • Positive Reinforcements

Foster children need to feel comfortable, safe, and supported in their new home. Celebrating or merely acknowledging their good behavior can ease them in. Importantly, a consistent practice can influence the child to repeat the right response.

  • Time-In

The opposite of time-out is a time-in. When a child has performed unwanted behavior, parents need to engage with the child. Communicating with the child allows parents to uncover the reason behind the action as well as correct it.

  • Grandma’s Rule Of Discipline

Parents usually use an authoritarian voice and negative consequences when telling kids what to do. Grandma, on the other hand, gives them positive incentives. Changing how you phrase requests have been proven effective in dealing with difficult children. In the case of a child who refuses to eat vegetables, instead of threatening them, parents should say, “If you finish your vegetables, you can go and play.”

Parents may also approach children by asking them what they want to do. They can ask, “Do you want cabbage soup or pumpkin soup?” This simple act gives foster children a sense of control to assert themselves healthily.


  • Teach Them Emotions

Foster children may harbor a lot of frustrations and emotions. When faced with an awkward situation, they do not know how to manage their feelings and end up lashing out. Parents can step in and teach children about what they are feeling and how they can appropriately tame these feelings. You can do this by regularly asking your child how their day went and how this made them feel.

  • Redirection

Children have short attention spans. This technique often works for younger children. Foster parents can redirect their child’s frustration by taking them to a new environment. If they are mad about their toys or playmates, parents can take them somewhere else to redirect their attention.  It also works with stopping unwanted behavior. If the child is too rough with their toys, parents can redirect his attention by asking him to do chores together.


Foster parents must be consistent with giving reinforcements and consequences. Children then will differentiate good behavior from bad behavior much quickly. Making empty threats and promises will only further confuse the child.

Raising and disciplining a child is not easy at all, let alone a foster kid. It takes knowledge and a lot of patience for parents. If you happen to be a parent of a foster kid and you are having difficulty raising him or her, why don’t you try reaching out to a credible and trustworthy therapist from BetterHelp? By subscribing to the app, you’ll get matched with someone who is trained on dealing with the specific mental health concern or topic that you need help with, including dealing with stress and anxiety among others. And they’ll be available for you anytime and anywhere. Check it out today.

Foster kids need the necessary discipline to lead healthy lives and build meaningful relationships in the future. Foster parents have to find positive approaches in teaching children life skills and instilling discipline, no matter how difficult it may be. Tough love may entail consequences. However, focusing on love more than being tough can enable parents to practice positive discipline with their foster children better.