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?