How to Be Loving AND Show Parental Authority at the Same Time

By Janis Meredith | Posted 4/12/2021

Do you ever struggle to show parental authority without going all commando-like on your kids? Sports parents may especially struggle with this because they take on a coaching authoritative tone when it comes to their kids’ sports. 

Do you find that you can’t strike the balance between being firm or even being strict and showing love to your kids at the same time? Do you feel like you either have to be the good cop OR the bad cop when it comes to parenting, but never both? Many parents find it difficult to be firm and loving and for good reason. They often think that you CAN’T be both, that the two in some way cancel each other out.

However, I know that both firmness and love can be expressed simultaneously. My dad used to describe being loving AND firm as having an iron hand in a velvet glove.

Let’s pick apart that phrase “iron hand in a velvet glove” a bit. Notice that it’s not a velvet hand in an iron glove. The reason for that is because the velvet glove on the outside is what is felt first.

When you have to lay the law down with your kids, the first thing they should feel is your love–the velvet–followed by the iron–the hand of enforcement. NOT the other way around: the iron hand of enforcement with the velvet of love as an afterthought.

How to Be the Iron Hand in a Velvet Glove

I’ve heard my dad’s phrase “iron hand in a velvet glove” ever since I can remember, but it wasn’t until I became a parent that I truly understood what a challenge it was to be that type of parent.

I certainly have not been a perfect parent, but I do believe I’ve learned some things about the whole iron-and-velvet analogy that might help you as you strive to raise champions:

Let Love Be Expressed Right Up Front.

First and foremost, let love lead the way. When your child disobeys, frustrates or is otherwise making your day an extreme challenge, your first instinct might be to lay down some “iron.” But if you want the iron-hand-in-a-velvet-glove strategy to work, you must start with the “velvet.”

Before you get into the “iron”–the discipline or the discussion about consequences–let them know that above all else, you love them and want the best for them. Express that you are not trying to make their lives miserable, but that your only desire is to help them learn and grow into good humans who are strong, compassionate, and full of integrity. That is the velvet, and it will lead you into part two: The iron.

The Iron Should Be What’s Best for Your Child.

The Iron that you need to dispense should never be to vent, release frustration, or make your child suffer for the wrong they’ve done or even the mistakes they’ve made in sports. Instead, the purpose of the iron is to help your child learn from the pain and the mistakes so they can grow up.

So, when dispensing iron, always ask yourself these two questions: What does my child really need to learn in this situation and what is the best way for me to help them learn it?

Be Willing to Listen.

Sometimes parents do way too much talking. But if you want to be firm and loving, you must start by listening so you can fully understand the situation, instead of jumping to conclusions.

The habit of seeking to understand is also part of the velvet and shows your child another way of loving them.

Know Where Iron is Truly Needed.

As a parent, I will admit that I dispensed iron in places where it was really not needed. Every parent is familiar with the phrase “choose your battles.” That is true when it comes to deciding when to lay down some Iron in your home.

Parents tend to lay down the iron for things that are not worth the fight. The best way to avoid this is to discuss core values and boundaries in your home, strive to live by them, and save the iron for issues that relate to them.

If you’re laying down the iron for things that are not so important to the character growth of your child, for things that won’t matter in a couple or 5 or 10 years, or for things that you might be mad about today but probably will have forgotten by tomorrow or next week, then you’re laying down the iron for the wrong things.

Velvet Needs to be Continual.

Having an iron hand in a velvet glove does not mean that the velvet only comes out when the iron hand does.

The velvet needs to be daily and hourly, lived in every moment as you parent. Always look for ways to show your child that you love them and let them feel the velvet throughout their day, not just when you have to sit them down and lay down the law because they’ve been doing something wrong.

Napoleon Said it First.

I’ve since learned that my dad was not the originator of the iron hand/velvet glove analogy. It was Napoleon, a French statesman and military leader who became notorious as an artillery commander during the French Revolution, who first said: Put your iron hand in a velvet glove.

I suppose it’s appropriate that a military commander shows us the most successful way to go into the parenting battle zone.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help parents raise champions. You can find out more at