Is Tough Love a Bad Parenting Style? Long Term Impact and Alternatives

We have often seen parents indulge in step-motherly relations with their children. Parents treat children toughly. Children are elementary and soft mentally and physically. We should always try to maintain the mental and physical balance of children. When we want to grow a healthy plant, we must provide them with care and nutrition. Similarly, if we expect our children to grow up with respect and manners, we must be soft and gentle. In this article, we will see in detail “ Is tough love a bad parenting style?”.


What is Tough Love Parenting?

Tough parenting is also known as authoritarian parenting. In this style, parents maintain strict rules, discipline, high expectations, and little negotiation with their children. It involves setting firm limits and allowances for misconduct with the conviction. This is the way to mold a child’s character, teach self-restraint, and facilitate the learning that results from personal responsibility.

A few examples of tough love parenting are:

  • Children did not have much say in the matter when the family implemented authoritative structures like strict rules and time regulations. 
  • They were expected to obey authority figures without question and to respect them.
  • When children didn’t follow the rules, common punishment was having their “privileges” or things they enjoyed taken away from them or subjected to some other harsh consequence. 
  • Authoritarian families often link their demands with threats of more punishment if the child doesn’t succeed or doesn’t comply with academics and behaviors.

Parenting that practices tough love aims to teach children discipline and responsibility. But not everybody loves tough love. For some, it goes too far and becomes just plain old abuse.

Origins and Rationale of Tough Love

The idea of “tough love” in parenting originated in the late 20th century, primarily in the United States. It stemmed from what some parents and experts felt was a laissez-faire attitude toward authority and discipline. It was a view that had come to be equated with some problematic styles of parenting. In this parenting, kids were basically left to their own devices to determine what is and isn’t good for them.

The rationale behind tough love holds that children need to have some life lessons handed to them. Even if forced to receive such lessons —they need to have proper lines of authority established in the home. Suppose they are to grow up to be responsible, self-disciplined, and rule-abiding adults. By contrast, the too-lax, too-little-discipline-occurring-in-the-home scenario. It is precisely the scenario in which proponents of tough love believe that tomorrow’s adolescents best learn to make poor choices and desultory decisions.

Potential Benefits of Tough Love

Those who advocate for tough love parenting claim that it brings many positive outcomes for the child and the entire family. They say it offers a clear structure with definite consequences, so the child knows what to expect. That means going to bed on time, keeping their grades up, or just being respectful toward others. The child learns the rule and the likely consequence of not adhering to it. 


The tough love parent hopes that this teaches their child not just to follow the rule but to understand its reason. Most importantly, it is important to understand how their behavior affects others. Building emotional resilience is a further benefit. Advocates maintain that envenomating malleable minds with Tales of Woe. It is integral to developing coping skills and the resolve and staying power needed. This results in overcoming the diversity of Difficult Life Circumstances.

Furthermore, this toughening up, so the story goes, also brings kids respect for authority. It is frequently, not appearing in the absence of User Manuals, Teaches Them to Obey Rules. It is essential if you want to maintain order and work within a Hierarchy. That seems like a good thing to get from childhood, doesn’t it, especially if it comes without the stocking feet and hot breath of bottomless Parental Disappointment?

Another way of understanding tough love is as a method for teaching children how to become functional, successful adults. Requiring kids to live up to high expectations and then holding them responsible when they don’t is believed to be ready for the adult world. Where routine tasks have consequences, and the path to personal fulfillment is often elusive. Kids who grow up believing themselves to be infallible (or at least successful) at every turn. They are bound to be in for a rude awakening when they become adults.

Is tough love a bad Parenting Style

Child development experts and psychologists have roundly condemned the tough love approach. They worried that its harsh and uncaring nature can cause emotional damage. They say that when parents use tough love methods—laying down the enforcement at every step, knocking over any and all opposition. They undermine children’s warmth and security. Some experts go so far as to say that when the going gets tough, the tough are out of line.

Experts say kids require a nurturing, supportive setting to thrive, and a tough-love approach doesn’t cut it. Why? Because kids need the emotional support that is part and parcel of a soft landing. They also need parents who manage not to be stressed-out wretches. How does this impact you, the offspring of this parenting style? Well, when it’s done right, as it sometimes is, it can make you yearn for a soft, indulgent life while appreciating parents’ restraint in job-related frustration.

Also, parenting with tough love can—unless it’s done very, very finely—teach kids that love, acceptance, and belonging are only given to them when they’re “good” or when they succeed. The conditionality of love can be a damper on emotional life, a stimulus to fear, and, in a word, can be really hard on children.

Impact of Tough Love on Child Development

When we talk about tough love parenting, many times, we think about its consequences. The negative effect of this type of parenting on children may be short-term or long-term. In this section, we will discuss both short-term and long-term consequences.


Tough love works depending on the child and how it’s implemented. Yes, tough love is a bad parenting style. Your tough love can harm a child’s self-esteem, cause anxiety, and damage the parent-child relationship if applied too harshly. However, discipline, responsibility, and resilience can be instilled in children when they balance well.

Short-Term Consequences of Tough Love Parenting:

  • The immediate effects of authoritarian love parenting are often conflict and tension. 
  • After parents implement tough love strategies, they may see their children expressing a range of strong emotions, including anger and frustration. 
  • Additionally, children may have an undercurrent of fear. This is an understandably difficult emotion for both parents and children to discuss. Still, it is an emotion the latter may be more inclined to experience after they receive tough love. 
  • Indeed, several prominent psychologists are now saying that tough love is akin to being emotionally abusive—and not only in the long run but in the immediate aftermath.

Some of the Common Long-Term Effects of Tough love Practice:

  • Seriously impaired relationships with both parents
  • Trust issues
  • Difficulties in maintaining healthy relationships
  • Inability to regulate their own emotions
  • Raising their children in overly strict ways
  • Problems with self-esteem, confidence, and mental health

When is Tough Love Appropriate?

Although child development professionals generally frown upon tough love parenting, there could be instances where a measured approach—using clear and consistent boundaries and well-defined, developmentally appropriate rules that are consistently followed at home—may be effective. The problem is that situations calling for tough love demand a high level of skill, sensitivity to the child’s feelings, and an accurate reading of what’s happening in the present—plus a good guess about what is coming in the future. Otherwise, tough love can backfire, making the parent seem mean, uncaring, or ineffective.

When should tough love be used? And why? These are questions that many parents ponder when faced with these types of situations. When it comes to working with older kids or teenagers who are participating in harmful activities, like using drugs, breaking the law, or being excessively defiant, using “tough love” as a parenting style can be beneficial.

Even more, guidance is warranted when a child’s harmful actions threaten their well-being. If all else has not worked, then this is a time for the parent to do something even more forceful. Some parents might consider this tough love, which is not a clear prospect. What some might see as tough love is what others would regard as abuse. A distinction has to be made.

Alternatives to Tough Love

Many people view tough love as an inflexible and unjust method of childrearing, one that can have a deleterious effect on the emotional and psychological life of a youngster. However, instead of this parenting style, we could say there are a few choices with different style names. 

  • Positive reinforcement: One is positive reinforcement, which involves praising and even tangibly rewarding a child when they do something good. Children look up to their parents and tend to imitate them; if parents live up to the reasonable standards they set for their children, that child is likely to feel good when meeting those standards. And when a child lives up to a standard set by a parent, the parent likes that—extra sugar on the cake!
  • Authoritative parenting: Authoritative parenting is a parenting style that strikes a balance between being nurturing and setting clear boundaries. When authoritative, parents are responsive to their children’s needs while maintaining reasonable expectations and consistent discipline. They use a lot of warmth, and at times, they use a lot of pressure. This approach has been associated with better academic performance, better emotional regulation and overall well-being in children, and better mental health in parents. This is a high-control style without much parental permissiveness.
  • Attachment Parenting: This way of parenting highlights the importance of not only forming a bond with your child but also a bond that will ultimately lead to a very healthy emotional state for your child. Essentially, attachment parenting just emphasizes the fact that the way we raise our children will have an impact on their not only social but intellectual development as well. What is so wrong with trying to form a bond with your child that will, in turn, foster a lot of really healthy mental development (compared to their other peers) for your child? That’s the real question — that and how on earth the term “attachment parenting” became a controversy when raising a child.
  • Mindful Parenting: Being a mindful parent means being fully present and engaged with your child. It also means being aware of your own emotions and how they might affect your parenting. Do you get angry easily? Maybe you are unaware of that and find yourself being impatient and reacting to your child’s actions in anger. This awareness is key to beginning to regulate your emotions and not letting problems with your child escalate to a level where you lose control. Mindfulness helps because, when you’re mindful, you’re not judging yourself for feeling angry. You’re just noticing the anger and feeling it.
  • Collaborative Parenting: Children can become involved in and understand adults’ problem-solving and decision-making processes. Open communication and an empathetic mindset allow them to share their ideas and perspectives. These perspectives are important and must be considered but not necessarily acted upon—that’s for the adults to decide. Our first impulse, too frequently acted upon, is to lead children to a passive role.

Key Takeaways and Final Thoughts

The tough love approach to parenting is a contentious one. It entails setting very clear rules and limits while giving little in the way of nurturance or affection. Although it can result in immediate obedience, what happens over the long term could be more predictable. To many, it seems more like poor or misguided parenting than love. And sure enough, research suggests that children who experience tough love suffer from a range of problems: poor self-image and low self-esteem chief among them, along with a proneness to depression.

However, as social scientists would be the first to acknowledge, how humans nurture, and discipline can’t easily be reduced to simple formulas. For better or worse, children of all kinds seem impervious to change—not pliable, push-button automatons. The key point here is how to find the right balance between discipline and nurturing, which caters to the child’s needs and growing stage.

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