Is it time for tough love?

Author: Caroline Day

Let’s take a boy or girl aged 17. You’ve given them everything. You’ve provided a home, food, love and care but they’ve become different from the other children. They’re not interested in college, are incapable of being sociable or polite, come and go as they please and – on the rare occasions they are at home – are abusive. They say their life is rubbish and complain they have no money but they aren’t interested in a job. You don’t think drugs are involved. You’ve still got them living at home because you’re terrified where they’ll go and what will happen to them. It’s now affecting the younger children. You’ve already been round the mill with them and seen doctors. What should you do now?


This is a dreadful dilemma because you’ll feel torn with all the conflicting advice. First thing to be sure about is that this is absolutely not your fault and it’s nothing to do with how they’ve been brought up. There’s some fascinating research on the adolescent brain and why behaviour like this happens, but it’s a fact that nobody can make anyone do anything that they don’t want to do. What you’d like them to do, of course, is get back to [your] normal. But at the moment this is [their] normal and they’re not interested in your way of doing things. But don’t despair, there’s plenty you can do.


When you say ‘Tough Love’ to anyone, it immediately conjours up thoughts of ‘throwing them out’ – mind you, sometimes the reality of it has them turn around and choose another way. But there’s another whole side to Tough Love; and I’m about to be Tough on you!

When one of your children is behaving outside the family norm – substance abuse, addicted, shouting, throwing things etc., it often has a detrimental effect on the whole family. This is because:

  • Parents become fixated on the problem, sometimes to the exclusion of the other children;
  • The problem seems to have a grip on the family and there’s no joy. This can drag parents down;
  • Giving up on your dreams for your child and all they could have been, is a loss akin to Grief;
  • Parents feel wounded and rejected by the withdrawing child;
  • It’s difficult for parents to accept that change can only happen if the child wants it to;
  • Parents become exhausted and want only for things to be ok again.

NB: If you’re in this situation, feel free to contact me, to see how I can help.


Before I answer that, I’m going to give you a bit of theory, so bear with me.

You have certain beliefs, values and expectations of your work, your family and your life. You do certain things in your family and behave a certain way. You probably know how your life’s going to be and, if there’s a problem, you’ll reach for a solution. That’s how you do it. We call this your Model of the World. We all have our own Model of the World and they’re all different.

The problem is that the child in our example has their own Model of the World too, and it’s not the same as yours! He or she has different beliefs, values and expectations and you can’t understand them. You’ll be thinking to yourself ‘How could anyone be happy with a life like that?’ What you’d really like is for them to come to their senses and behave ‘normally’; but it doesn’t work like that. At the moment they’re doing their life their way.


Yes, you could ask them to leave. But before you do anything, follow these three steps:

1. RESEARCH what’s available in your area for your son or daughter if they do decide to leave. Where could they go? I’d start with my surgery and ask them about charities or hostels. There may be people who will see them on the NHS and there may be private therapists – but of course, they’d need to want to see them. Often, you’ll be swamped with suggestions that may or may not be helpful. Persevere! Compile a list of what is available and have it in your back pocket.

2. DECIDE for yourself what you want for your family and what needs to change. It’s your family, you’re Driving the Bus. What do you want your son or daughter to do differently? How do they need to behave? Do they need to go to college or work? Do you require them to engage with the family? How about mealtimes? How do you want your family to run? What are the standards for you all? Compile your list so that you’re clear in your own mind about what has to change.

3. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT to talk to them. If you like, this is the equivalent of a first verbal warning when something needs to change. Whilst it’s a serious matter, you’re actually looking to find a solution. [LITTLE TIP: the more work you do on the first two tasks the easier the conversation is.] I’d have an agenda on hand to keep you on track. Along with the normal pleasantries, seeing how they are and all that – what you’re looking to discuss is the following

  1. What seems to you the ‘unreasonable’ behaviour you will no longer accept;
  2. What standards of behaviour are required of everyone in your home;
  3. Agreement to a way forward in order for them to carry on living at home.

This last one adds a useful bit of Gravitas to the conversation and is important. After all, it’s your nice warm home, tasty food and no consequences that is enabling their current way of life!

It’s important to meet your child where they currently are and that you all stay calm.

You’re not telling them to go, you’re not ‘slinging them out’ but you are being tough about both the behaviour you will accept in your home and the consequences should they decide not to comply. What you’re really saying is that it’s their choice and they have the freedom to go if they want to; but they don’t have to, as long as they do this or behave like that.


There’s always more to learn and to consider. If you are in this position and would like some help either getting ready for or having the conversation I can work with you one-on-one.

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