Commando Parenting: A Family Therapy Resource?!Feb 18, 2023
Is Commando Parenting Really A Family Therapy Resource?
Commando parenting is a style of parenting that highlights discipline and structure and is characterized by a no-nonsense approach to raising children where parents are in charge and expect their kids to follow the rules. Commando Parenting is about having rules and being very consistent with them. For some reason, Commando Parenting is making a resurgence at the moment having been made famous by Dr Phil in 2005.
Initially, I rolled my eyes at 'Commando Parenting', but soon realized that Dr Phil is borrowing heavily from Structural Family Systems and this is actually a technique that is in family systems literature used when family hierarchy is inverted.
Commando Parenting As A Technique
So if Commando parenting is not recommended as a parenting style when would you use it as a parenting technique? As a family systems therapist, I've got a bit of a controversial view on a family structure that isn't very popular, but I think that's because I'm a bit misunderstood.
All I mean by family structure and hierarchy is that I want the adults the parents the adult caregivers to be in charge. I cannot think of a single example where it would be okay to have a child running a family. The work of structural theorists like Salvador Minuchin and Chloe Mandanes in the 1960s and the research that followed has really shown to us that healthy young adults are raised in families in which the parents are higher in the hierarchy than children depending on your parenting style there is going to be variations in what that hierarchy looks like.
Some of my work in family therapy is helping parents adjust their style somewhat sometimes the parenting Style just does not match the kids temperament some kids don't respond well to not having structure and boundaries and I have to help parents firm things up a little bit and other kids don't respond to having too many boundaries and too much structure and I have to work with parents to soften them a little bit so what I'm talking about is moving the dials on the four dials of parenting making them more flexible the families that most concern me are the ones that have structures in which the child is joining the parent level of the hierarchy if this family was a company it would be like letting kids into the c-suite and letting them make executive decisions on behalf of the whole company.
Structural Family Systems Tools
I call it a democratic hijack what this means is that the child has been exposed to too much responsibility or too much power or authority or decision making and that is just not healthy for a child we don't want to expose children to too much adult stuff they're not old enough they're that they can't handle it they're not supposed to handle it and that's because they're kids. If this continues over time a child starts running the house and the only way that children can do this is with the very few tools that they have at their disposal now adults run the household with experience age education children don't have what they have is threats - threats of leaving threats of running away threats of self-harm threats of killing themselves or emotional outbursts which could be violent angry or just disturbing and worrying to parents I call this monarchy by a minor and the parent in this situation become the powerless parents this is not a good situation in structural family systems as therapists call this an inverted hierarchy and this family structure is correlated with teens who self-harm teens who run away and anxiety depression all kinds of really serious stuff so if this reminds you of your family please get professional help from someone this won't change without some help from an expert what I'm about to share with you should not be undertaken by yourself based on what I'm saying a YouTube video is not therapy so please get professional help from a licensed therapist and feel free to ask them if they know about structural family systems you should feel totally empowered to ask any therapist if they've got that experience when I'm working with a family who's got this structure some version of Commando parenting as a technique might be advisable so the way that I'm interpreting Commando parenting is that it's a technique to get parents back in power with that being said I would hope that this technique or this style of parenting doesn't have to last forever I would hope that it could soften over time but an inverted hierarchy does often require some drastic measures such as this Commando parenting idea so let me tell you really quickly about a family that I've used this with and how I got the parents to be Commando parents.
A Family Therapy Technique & Intervention
I never talk about real clients so this is actually a mashup of various clients that I've seen over the years I remove all identifying names and features so this isn't really about anybody that you could ever know in the real world so this first family had a 10 year old and this 10 year old flat out refused to go to school over the course of a few sessions his parents started telling me that they started off with him being sick and then he kept on being sick and then his parents realized that he wasn't really sick he was just saying he was sick obviously in situations like this you do have to rule out medical conditions this family had gone to numerous doctors had numerous tests and nothing biological or medical was apparent I started asking about what happens when they don't go to school one of two things would happen number one they would get to hang out with Dad which I gathered was actually a cool thing they liked dad's work they're like what Dad did so kind of fun or they would stay at home with mum play video games watch TV so it wasn't really much
of a surprise to me to learn that pretending to be sick slowly morphed into just not going to school this is called School Refusal it's a real thing staying at home though was basically fun why would any child go to school if you could either hang out with your cool dad or stay home with Mom and watch TV all day now the problem is you can't let your kid get away with this because it's truancy and parents are responsible for this it becomes an issue of child neglect which means a child abuse report has to be filed it gets more serious so we had to do something drastic my commando parenting idea was very similar to Dr Phil's because I think he's
borrowing this from structural family therapy and it's the gold standard of what to do when there's School refusal over a good few sessions I coached mum and dad with what the plan would be, and that would be packing up all of the toys games and electronics and putting them in the trunk of the car if the kid refused to go to school again Dad would then take everything to work and the kid
would stay at home with nothing to do now how this differs from what I think Dr. Phil talks about is that this was all laid out in advance there were no surprises here the kid knew in advance what the deal was if you refuse to go to school here is what we are going to do being the Monarch minor they didn't really believe that Mum and Dad would ever have the balls to pull this off and they did, and the kid wasn't very happy about it but after a couple of days they went back to school and slowly earned all of their toys and their Electronics back.
Commando Parenting for me in this case was about giving mum and dad the power to reclaim their Authority and it was tough but it worked now with another family I did something similar but this teen was older and bigger and was a little bit more scarier for mum and dad but I had them in advance tell the kid what was going to happen and that night before mum and dad went to bed they took every single charging cable out of the house phone iPad laptop all electronic wires were gone and that's because they were afraid of taking the phone or asking for the phone or asking for the laptop so instead we came up with this idea to just take all the charging cables and of course everything ran out of power after a few hours what was great in this case was it only lasted one morning and I think it was Mom that got a call from the kid asking very sheepishly if they could still get a ride home after swim practice that night so the kid went to school did swim practice and again slowly earned the electronics and the charging cables back so for me as a structural family therapist Commando parenting works as a technique and just to reiterate this mum and dad do not jump into this idea we talk about it over a series of weeks I want mum and dad to be on the same page to know what to do to really make sure that they feel confident to pull the trigger on this they have to be in unison doing this there can be no chinks in the armor I have to really pump them up to be Marine sergeants or Commandos now don't forget I've spent a good few sessions getting a full history I know everything that they've tried before I know everything that hasn't worked I've understood what goes on in the family and then only when I'm confident that this is the last remaining decision do I get parents on board with this so this is absolutely not something that you should rush into I really again recommend you get a family systems therapist to help you out with it so that was Commando parenting I hope it was helpful and useful and I genuinely hope that you don't ever have to become a Commando Parent.
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