Parenting dilemma #347: When to start grounding your kids

As someone who spent the better portion of my teens in some state of “grounding”, it should come as little surprise that my firstborn would get an early start on things. Yes, at the tender age of 6 (just turned, even!), dd has now experienced her first grounding. It’s not something I planned but, you see, I was at my wit’s end.

Backing thing up a little…

A few weeks back, dh went on a work trip out of town for several days. While he was gone, dd was INSISTENT that she needed to sleep in my bed (much as she was steadfast that she couldn’t sleep alone while I was out of town for BlogHer’12 earlier this year), and I – foolishly? – gave in to this request. Now, it’s easy to cluck tongues and remind me that this is only going to lead to bad things, but let me start off by saying: A) I KNOW, and B) it’s awfully easy to say “don’t do it!” when you’re not the one facing the night of lost sleep while shuttling back and forth between bedrooms trying to get her to SHUT UP already. This isn’t to say that I think co-sleeping is a bad thing, no matter what the AAP says. My daughter is six, and it’s unlikely that she’s going to experience negative effects from co-sleeping other than future difficulties breaking the habit and the fact that my bed is higher off the ground than hers (longer way to fall).

This started in the first night dh was gone and continued for the next several nights, while he was away. Naturally, when dh managed to luck into an earlier flight than expected, one that returned just before midnight (so he could sleep in his own bed one night earlier), she planted her feet in full-on rebellion and tried to wheel and deal. She’d be quiet if she could sleep in our bed until dh came home and then he could move her to her bed. Uh, no. *freaks out* She’d be quiet if she could sleep in our bed all night. NO. *freaks out* Head, meet wall. Repeatedly. I can’t fully remember how it all went but I seem to recall that I didn’t get her to stop fussing until about two hours or so after I put her down. Maybe 2-1/2hrs. It’s all a blur.

And then we get fast-forward to this holiday weekend, where it seemed like things were going downhill fast, as the little miss decided on Friday night that she needed to be in our bed. Over the next several hours, it became apparent to both me and dh that she was going to insist on coming into our bed even though both of us just wanted our space. He didn’t feel well thanks to some kind of stomach bug, and I have been fighting a miserable cough for weeks. My initial attempt to get her to sleep was around 7:30pm. We would be fighting this battle with her, on and off, for the next 2-ish hours.

I tried reasoning with her. I tried appealing to her sense of self-preservation (“You don’t want to get {whatever crud it is that we have}!”). Nothing worked. DH tried similar appeals. Both of us even threatened to take away privileges, as a last-ditch effort. Still, nothing worked.

Sure enough, she ended up in our bed around 1:20am.

At that point, I’d already told dh I wanted her grounded, not sure what that would mean much beyond “you’re not allowed out of your room except for potty breaks and meals”. She agreed to be grounded in exchange for sleeping in our bed, to which dh responded, incredulous: “I’ve never heard of anyone asking to be grounded before!” I suppose it’s also easy to be incredulous at 1:20am. At that time of day, at our age, any activity is surprising.

So, Saturday morning began the DAY OF THE GROUNDING. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t come with me on a trip to Kohl’s to buy presents for the kiddo whose Christmas we’re underwriting through an “adopt a child” program. She didn’t get why she couldn’t go out to play. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t linger in the den after a meal was over.

I feel for her, really I do. But having already revoked her privileges to her bike, her scooter and TV for a WEEK over the fuss she put up the night dh was coming home from his trip, I wasn’t sure what I could take away that would have an impact. We’re looking at implementing some kind of system that will be more along the line of positive reinforcement, probably in conjunction with her responsibility chart (using only a handful of items as the responsibilities we’ll track).

There’s a part of me that says that there’s nothing we can do to get a six-year-old to fall in line, but there’s another part of me that’s sure this isn’t true, that there are disciplinary and proactively reinforcing measures that will work. I’m just not sure what they are. I’d prefer not to have to ground her again anytime soon, especially since I’m not really sure that it has any real effect at this age. If anybody has any suggestions – short of corporal punishment, which I’m desperately trying to avoid – I’d love to know. What has worked for you with your kiddos, ’round about that 6yr age range?

5 thoughts on “Parenting dilemma #347: When to start grounding your kids

  1. Grounding and taking things away can back fire on you. My kids are all adults now, but when they were teens, I grounded them from time to time. The problem with that is that YOU are grounded too in order to make sure that your punishment is adhered to.

    With a 6 year old, I’ve had success with creating and maintaining a chart to help her break the habit of coming to your bed. Every night she is successful she gets a sticker for the chart. For every so many stickers, she gets a reward (goes to lunch with you, a book, a small toy, an extra hour of TV). The reward should be stated up front and should be something SHE values.

    Another thing that might help is a really cool nightlight for her room (if you don’t already have that). Or you could get her a puppy to sleep with her so she doesn’t need to sleep alone. 😀

  2. I’m no expert here, but I’m going to draw on past experiences to see if I can help break the mystery. In this situation I’m leaning towards a more Freudian approach rather than a Pavlovian. Your beautiful and intelligent DD is a “big girl” now (just had a birthday, in elementary school, reading proficiently, etc.). At the same time, she is *just* 6. At this age they are still so developmentally and emotionally immature. I wonder if there is a fear behind all of this that is much stronger and more powerful than any consequence that she may be given? What does she get from sleeping with Mom and Dad (at least initially)? Usually, it’s comfort and a feeling of safety. From there, as you mentioned, it can become a habit. If these basic needs are threatened, either actual or perceieved, then no amount of privledge withholding is going to reinstill this in her and we can expect she will continue to both act out and react. She has gone through so much change lately that it’s not so surprising that we’re seeing out of the ordinary behavior when her home environment changes. Despite all that external change, one thing has remained the same: the family reunites in the evening and there’s a predictable routine which provides comfort to the wee ones. When this predictability is shaken up, she doesn’t know how to cope. She is so smart I think she knows that her fears are irrational (Mom/ Dad are away, but they’ll be back). However, she maybe doesn’t have the tools to manage her feelings or even to express them in a more positive way. She may even be trying hard to not show it, but then breaks down when she’s at her worst: when she’s most tired/ exhausted. I think it might be worth asking her some open ended questions and maybe even sharing with her that it’s okay to be scared/ stressed/ nervous and that even Mom and Dad (those she looks up to the most) even experience those feelings. Hopefully, once it’s acknowledged then the work can begin to helping her build her “tool box”. Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and we will always have stress. It’s how we manage and cope with it in a healthy way that matters. This is an important life lesson that she’s facing. Of course, I’m not her Mom and could be totally off the mark here. Noone knows her better than you, but I hope my ideas help direct you to the real root of her behavior;o)

  3. Our best strategy, and that of many of our friends, is not engaging in the middle of the night. When a child (in our case, almost always Teddy) shows up in our room, a parent walks him back to his room and puts him in bed without discussion. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Yes, the first night it can take MANY repetitions, but it usually works pretty quickly. Which is not to say he’s never in our bed, nor to say that he could be considered a good sleeper by ANY definition, but I think it could work for you.

  4. Ladies – thanks very much for the comments and suggestions! DH and I have talked and we do agree that it’s going to take approaching this from a number of angles. Some of it is clearly that she’s undergoing a lot of change right now, and maybe just shrugging it off more than we have been will work better. A sticker chart or some other more measured “reward for good behavior” system (versus a “penalty for undesirable behavior”) is also something we want to implement. And, of course, there’s the issue of the nightlight. We got her a new one a while back, to replace the one that didn’t throw enough light for her taste, but even that seems dim by comparison to what she wants. Unfortunately, the type of lamp we have in our ds’ room (nightlight in the base with cutouts, so a lot of light gets through) is simply not on the market right now. I have some EXHAUSTIVE internet searching over the last two nights and come up with a handful of options that won’t generate nearly as much wattage, so we’re also considering letting the kids share the lamps and get another pair of lamps for them to share…or maybe just giving both of the lamps to dd (since they were hers originally) and giving ds a new pair of lamps (since he’s rarely getting NEW things in the furnishings department, poor kiddo). I’ll definitely be posting an update in a few weeks. We were hoping the disruption of starting Kindergarten would only mean upheaval through Thanksgiving (at the latest). Now, we’re wondering whether we’re in for a MUCH longer haul.

    • I don’t remember these problems with you at that age, but I think your friends are on the right track. The Freudian angle is especially interesting. As for solutions: Better nightlight, good; rewards chart, good; understanding and accepting major changes in her life, good. A columnist in the family column in the Thursday WP has said that serious talks can happen more easily in the dark. You could consider having a discussion with her in her room, with the lights out, to see if she can articulate better how she feels. Granted, there are times she’s wicked smart, but she’s really only 6. The columnist also has said that there’s a weak burst of hormones around this time too, so perhaps that may come into play also.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *