How to Deal with Grounding Problems

Hi Mark, I am writing today because we seem to be going backwards and not forwards with the grounding effectiveness. Since the beginning of April we have been implementing groundings and I would have thought by now that they would be having some effect. Meaning that the teenager would be getting the message. Let me help you understand what is happening. The groundings have been around disrespect, spearing, defiance, annoying (big time!) and attitude!!!

==> “Disrespect, defiance, annoying and attitude” are all very vague terms that could mean anything.

He is an only child. We start with a 1-day grounding say for showing disrespect.

==> If I were to video tape him being disrespectful, what would I see? Is he using a particular cuss word? Is he throwing something across the room?

That grounding turns into a 3 day grounding within a few minutes because this child will not close his mouth, will not stop what he is doing and becomes irate and extremely angry to the point that he wants to hurt us or our things!

==> O.K. You are probably going to be a bit irritated with me now – but again, these are all very vague descriptions of behavior (i.e., “…will not close his mouth …will not stop doing what he is doing”). I’m guessing that he probably has NO clear idea of exactly what he needs to do differently giving your loose description of the behavior.

That grounding is then re-started at least 3 more times over the next couple of days because this child just doesn't get it! The light is not coming on! During the groundings the teenager is always bordering on having the grounding constantly restarted. And once he comes off the grounding there is usually only a couple of days before he is grounded again. He has had 4 groundings in the space of 6 weeks. - Each of them lasting about 5 days each. Not only that but the groundings do not seem to be helping him to see that it is his actions that is causing him to be grounded and in fact sometimes the groundings have not effect at all! (A very strong willed child).

Can you please help me understanding how much rope we are to give before we restart a grounding. For example - he shows disrespect - we ground him etc. Do we re-start the grounding the minute he shows disrespect again. This child will go up to the boundary and indeed put his foot over it to see what we will do!! Do we need to come down really hard each time and take no crap for him at all? At first with a one day grounding - we took electronics off him. That had no effect. So the next time when the 1-day went to a 3 day grounding all his indoor and outdoor toys and playing with any friends is taken off him. We have told him that the next time he is grounded everything will be removed! He still doesn't seem to get it. Please help me, my husband and I are going mad! Thanks for your time.

==> Two things seem to be going on here:

1. I think you are trying to fight multiple battles at once. In other words, he gets a one-day grounding for behavior A …then he introduces a new problem by exhibiting behavior B – now he’s receives a 3-day grounding … then sometime during the 3-day grounding he exhibits behavior C – now he’s grounded for another 3 days.

You only restart the 3-day-discipline if the original crime is re-committed. For example, let’s say he gets angry and declares, “I’m going to kill you – I hate you” (this is behavior A and should be the only focus of the 3-day grounding).

When parents issue a 3-day-discipline, it is very common for kids to introduce additional behavioral problems (temper tantrums, threats, etc.) as a way to (a) get the parent side-tracked from the original consequence and (b) get the focus off of them and onto the parent's anger.

If the parent falls for this, she ends up issuing additional consequences on top of existing consequences, restrictions against the kid begin to pile up, and before long, the kid is grounded for 3 months with no privileges -- and both the parent and the kid have forgotten what the original problem was.

Don't let this happen to you. Do not let your son get you distracted from the original problem and the associated consequence for that problem. Here's how you do this:

If your son commits another "crime" (figuratively speaking) during a 3-day-discipline, put this new crime in the "Deal-With-It-Later" file. You literally write the problem down on a piece of paper (e.g., 'son called me a bitch and broke a plate') and put this note-to-yourself somewhere where you can find it after the original 3-day-discipline is completed.

After the original 3-day-discipline is completed, you then confront your son regarding the second problem he introduced by saying, "Just for your information, in the future, if you choose to __________ (in this case, "call me a bitch and break my dishes"), then you'll choose the consequence which is __________ (here you just follow the strategy "When You Want Something From Your Kid" in the Anger Management Chapter of the Online Version of the eBook).

So, does your son get "off the hook" for calling you a name and breaking a plate? In a way, yes -- but only for the time being. He will have to answer to you if the name-calling and plate-breaking occur again in the future.

Pick your battles carefully - but perhaps more importantly, pick them one-at-a-time. Do not try to fight 14 battles at once. You'll just blow a blood vessel in your brain, and your kid will be successful at getting you to chase your tail.

Use your "Deal-With-It-Later" file frequently. You'll save yourself a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be spent in chronic power struggles.

2. Your description of behavior is too vague. You need to describe to him in great detail exactly what he did that caused him to receive a consequence. Do not use phrases like “you were being disrespectful …you had an attitude …you don’t get it”. Also, describe exactly what he has to do to complete the 3-day-discipline (e.g., “you’ll be ungrounded in 3 days if you do not say I hate you, I’m going to kill you"). Then if he goes 3 days without saying this, he’s ungrounded.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

RE: “I have a 16 year old who is failing school and has absolutely no motivation.”

In this article, we will be discussing an important issue that many parents face - when their teenager is failing at school and has no motiv...