Why We Don't Ground Our Kids

Even before I was a parent and then later when my children were really small, I often heard warnings about "Just wait until they get older, and they are so difficult." For all manner of disobedience and bad attitudes and dishonesty, grounding kids seemed to be the punishment of choice. And I never heard many alternatives offered.

Jason and I, however, were blessed with some awesome parenting resources and the model of some great parents with families who weren't perfect but were authentically walking the path of life in a way meant to teach their kids to love and honor God. One of the decisions we made early on was that grounding kids was not a good option for us.

Parenting and punishment

What do I consider "grounding"? 

When I hear that parents have "grounded" their kids, I'm referring to a statement thrown out as a punishment in which the child is going to be prohibited from leaving the house, watching television, using a certain device, or being around a specific group for a specified amount of time. Often I've heard grounding thrown out as a punishment for anything from smart mouthing a parent to coming in late on a night with a curfew.

Typically grounding seems to send kids off with a punishment without much discussion and no tolerance for arguing about whether the punishment is deserved. It seems like a quick and easy way to deal with disobedience in a way that will make the child think twice before disobeying again.

So, why not use grounding as a punishment?

We don't want to just react to a situation without thinking.

I know that I can't possibly know every parent's motives, but it seems that the punishment of grounding is often thrown out as a reactionary statement. When faced with a smart mouthed teen or a child who has been lying, a frustrated parent only knows that the child needs something that will make him think twice about doing this again.

There may be times that removing the child from a device or a group or a situation is helpful. And I may need to thoughtfully decide that. But I never want to throw out a punishment as a reaction in anger. When I do that, I damage my relationship with my child, and I can make statements that I later regret. I might throw out a really tough punishment and then realize I was too harsh. I would rather that we thought through the consequence we're going to give before we say things we regret.

We certainly aren't perfect at this as parents. But what we try to do in a situation where we need to deal with a child's behavior is to tell the child that we are going to talk to together and then come back to him or her with a consequence for that behavior. When we take time to think instead of reacting, we can choose a consequence that is going to help the situation and deal with heart issues instead of just punishing the child.

We want to encourage conversation about what happened.

I am more concerned about the hearts of my children than I am about their outward behavior. They may do things that make me angry or that embarrass me or that frustrate me. But the real issue isn't the behavior that I see, it's the heart, the reason they are doing it. The real issues in their hearts are the things that affect their relationship with God, and those are the things I want to address.

Grounding kids can cut off conversation about what happened. When grounding is thrown out as a punishment, the dialogue is cut off. Kids often stomp off angry about an unfair punishment. They throw up walls of anger and defense. And then any chance I might have to talk about their heart issues is gone. They're closed off and defiant. When that is the response, I've lost the chance to talk about the why behind their behavior and to pray with them about what happened.

We are a talking family. I've learned, on occasion, that talking to a child and trying to understand why she did a particular behavior can give me good insight into the heart issues there. Sometimes the behavior was just a result of acting impulsively or of following the lead of someone else. This is different from a child acting out of direct rebellion and defiance. And the consequences should often be different then. But if we shut a child down right away by throwing out a consequence, we won't hear the real why behind what happened, and we won't know how to help our child.

Heart parenting

We want the consequence to fit the behavior.

Kids learn best from natural consequence because that's the way real life is going to work. If a child leaves her bike in the driveway after we've told her ten times that isn't acceptable, a natural consequence is that the UPS truck might back over it when delivering a parcel. That consequence will be much more effective than me yelling or throwing out random punishments because I wasn't obeyed. Naturally consequences show kids that every decision they make has a consequence- good or bad and that the reason for the rules we have is to protect them and help them grow into the people God wants them to be.

Occasionally grounding may be the punishment that fits the behavior the best. When a child has chosen to follow the group and do something that isn't acceptable, removing them from the group might be the fitting consequence. If it is, we'll talk to them after talking together, and we'll come up with a plan to prevent them from being with the group for an amount of time- or forever, depending on the group!

Often grounding isn't the consequence that makes sense in the situation. We always try to draw a line for the child to help connect the punishment with the offense. For example, "You didn't put your clothes away when I told you to yesterday. As a result, you're going to practice putting things away with me today by putting away all of the laundry- not just yours." This is a consequence that fits the offense and that, hopefully, will communicate to the child that his decisions always have consequences.

Do we always do it right? NO! Don't read this post and think I have it all together. But over our years of parenting, this is the lesson we've learned. Our goal is always to guide out kids to have a right relationship with God- with conversations, with modeling behavior, and with appropriate consequences when necessary.

I'd love to know what you think about grounding. Leave me a comment.

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