Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: How to Give Consequences the Right Way (and Why Grounding Doesn’t Work)

Posted April 24, 2009 by

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If you’re in the habit of relying on the catch phrase of “You’re grounded!” when your child acts out, you’re not alone.  It seems like such a reliable statement to have in your parenting vocabulary, doesn’t it? But if you’re the parent of teens or pre-teens, you already know that when it comes to getting results, it usually doesn’t get you any closer to having responsible children in your home.

Being grounded can look a little bit different from family to family, but it usually consists of all privileges being stripped away for a substantial period of time. As a parent, it can be tempting to think that if you make a bold enough statement by taking away all of your child’s privileges — or even one very important privilege — they’ll get the message and the behavior will stop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.

Here are a few of the real problems with grounding, or being rigid about consequences for inappropriate behavior:

  • Your child is not being required to practice any new skills. Instead, they’re basically sitting ducks until you decide to give them back their privileges.
  • When you use consequences in an excessive way, the only way for your kids to take back control is to try and beat you at your own game.  What does that look like? Noncompliance.  (Wait a minute, noncompliance is where this all started, right?)
  • Those privileges that should serve as an incentive for your children to work harder at following the rules are being devalued because they’re out of the picture for such a long time. Basically, kids become apathetic about what they enjoy doing if they don’t get to do it on a regular basis.
  • It’s important to note that the aftermath of punishing your kids not only makes them feel angry and powerless, but it makes you feel that way, as well.

The good news it that there are guidelines that can make it easier for you to master using consequences effectively. Like anything else, you just need to have access to the right set of tools. As James Lehman says, “Consequences don’t happen in a vacuum. They have to fit in with an overall style of parenting designed to produce children who can respond to limits, meet responsibilities and demonstrate age-appropriate behavior.”

Here are a few things James recommends that you do in order to give consequences more effectively:

  • Teach your child that consequences are a result of his choices. As much as possible, connect the consequence to the offense.
  • Avoid giving consequences in the moment. Come up with a plan ahead of time, and make sure “the punishment fits the crime.”
  • Make the consequence task-oriented, not time-oriented.
  • Have a conversation with them when things calm down and ask them, “What can you differently the next time this happens?”

By coming up with a plan ahead of time, you’re not caught unawares the next time your child acts out. Making the consequence task-oriented helps your child earn his privileges back with good behavior. As James says, you’re teaching him how to make better choices, not just how to “do time.”
The key is to give consequences so your child will learn something. When you think about it, punishment doesn’t teach them any skills to solve their problem differently tomorrow.

I love hearing from parents on the Support Line who have been able to change their approach to consequences. It might take days or even weeks, but eventually they tell me they see a change in their child’s behavior, too.

Remember, you can do it — it just takes practice.


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. megan Report

    Dear Shelkd: Parenting differences are very challenging. And, as James says, long term consequences are just not effective in changing behavior: if something is gone for a long time, the child will simply learn to live without it. You might read through the articles on consequences and younger children in the EP archives (type that phrase into the global search box at the top of the homepage). As for parenting differences, please check out James’ program “Two Parents, One Plan,” and the article (or search “parenting differences” in the search box).

  2. megan Report

    Dear Kayvie – without knowing more specifics of your situation (which does sound complex!) it is difficult to come up with a consequence. And, I am unclear whether the consequence is for lying, or for being out past curfew (though my guess is that both are an issue). You might explore the articles on lying in the EP archives – type “lying” into the global search box on the EP homepage. If you are a Total Transformation customer, you can call the Support Line – specialists can help to come up with a customized plan for you and your son. Given the complexities, speaking with someone directly might be much more helpful.

  3. megan Report

    Dear Kwarden: It should go without saying, but please do not beat your late husband’s son. Physical violence is inappropriate in ANY situation. We encourage you to seek more extensive help in your community before going ahead with the adoption; your local crisis services should be able to assist you, or point you in the right direction. This child has had two recent deaths – it does not excuse poor behavior, but grief and loss are very intense, and he deserves support, as do you. We encourage you to explore the Total Transformation program as well – the program can help you come up with effective ways of helping him to manage his behaviors and make appropriate choices. This is simply too important, and as you’ve written, dangerous, for you to be in this alone. Please let us know if we can be of assistance in the future.

  4. kwarden Report

    I am adopting my late husbands 11 year old son. His father died in August of 09. His mother died 3 years ago. He was allowed to do his own thing until he was 9 due to the fact that his parents were always high. When he didn’t get his way, he would throw a fit till he got what he wanted. I am now trying to establish effective consequences versus grounding or taking privileges away. I have tried everything up to and not including beating, although I have been tempted to see if that would get results. It seems that no matter what the consequence, be it natural or not, he just does his time like it isn’t a big deal. And then the behavior just continues. We are in counseling, I go in and talk, we get a game plan, work with contracts, the only time the contract is even brought up is when I am going against it. If he goes against it, he has an excuse, and I am the bad guy for enforcing the consequence. Then he does the time. HELP???? What do I do from here? He is a good boy for the most part, but if I don’t get a reign on this now, I am in for huge problems as he gets older.

  5. kayvie Report

    My 16 yr old son lives in an apartment right across the street from me. (I know, its a long story.) I still am responsible for him as far as rent, food, healthcare, etc. Last night he called from a friends house and wanted to stay overnight. I told him no, he needed to do homework… anyway he was mad but he came home, checked in with me and then went to his apartment. This morning I went across the street before school to make sure he was up, (he overslept the day before and missed the bus), and he wasn’t there. He had come home to appear that he was obeying me and then left again. I called his school to make sure he was there and he was but the point is he lied to me and disobeyed me. He has always done whatever he wants to and if someone tells him no he is verbally defiant and guilting. He should have a consequence. Any suggestions?

  6. shelkd Report

    My husband, my sons step father uses grounding
    frequently with our 7 year old, it might be an entire
    month before he gets his TV back. I have a hard time
    with him and discipline because I think it is easier
    for him to disciple my son. He never did this with his
    children and they treat him like crap, they are mean
    to my son and I walk on egg shells when they are
    around. Can you please help I love my son and
    want this to work out we have a 10 month old and it is

  7. Tina Wakefield Report

    Jan in AZ,

    Thank you for posting an example of a task-oriented consequence–I think the more people see different examples of effective consequences the better! In a lot of families grounding can become a long standing punishment that leaves the child powerless to do anything in order to be in a “good status,” again. I’m pleased this is not the case for your family.

  8. Tina Wakefield Report


    There are instances when grounding is an appropriate consequence. In the blog, my main objective was to discourage people who use grounding in an ineffective way. When a child isn’t obeying curfew, a relatable consequence can be to either establish an earlier curfew or to ground them for a short period of time from social activities. Keep in mind that we want to allow the child to have an opportunity to try again and make a better choice or practice the desired skill.

  9. Tina Wakefield Report


    For certain behaviors, it isn’t possible to use a consequence that is directly related. In those instances, you just want to choose a privilege that you think will be a good motivator for your son to get his work done. So basically, you just want to make sure that the task you require of him is related to the behavior: “When you show me that you choose to sit at the table at this time and work for this long then you can have an hour of video games.” I know you mentioned that you won’t allow him to go out when something comes up, but I’m wondering if there are any privileges you can think of that you could use from day to day?

  10. lfreedom Report

    My 7 year old daughter uses an anger journal when she behaves inappropriately when angry. She actually responds very well to this and it has helped us to figure out some behavior cycles that might not have come to light. She answers the following questions: what did I get angry about, what did I do when I got angry, what can I do differently next time. Simple, but just enough to have her think through the events and plan what to do if the same problem comes up again.

  11. amywglasgow Report

    Please elaborate on this idea of consequences being tied into the behavior. I am thinking if my 17 yr.old doesn’t come home at night, he should be “grounded”, requiring him to stay home and miss the fun his friends are having. Is there a more effective punishment?

  12. Jan in AZ Report

    When I was homeschooling, I DID use grounding to great effect. The neighborhood kids got out of school at 2:30 and he loved to go up the street and meet his friends when they got out of school. If that day’s assignments were not done, he could not go out until they were. He HATED hearing all his friends going past the house on their way home when he couldn’t go out to see them.

    I also used to give him a time limit on my availability to help. Usually it was 4:00, but if I had something to do that day, I would set a different time, and give him several hours’ notice, as well as a couple of reminders (since it was a different time from the usual)–“I am available to help you with your schoolwork until 2:00 today–after that, you’re on your own.”

    If he chose to stay home on a day or two rather than do his work, we would also skip the weekly park day with our home-school group until he was caught up.

    This type of grounding wasn’t merely “doing time,” it was directly associated with getting his schoolwork done. It worked very well with him because he is EXTREMELY social, and would do just about anything to be with friends.

  13. Sheila Report

    How do I relate not doing school work and a consequence? This is not obvious with me. I understood that if I didn’t do schoolwork I wouldn’t get good grades and I would be embarrased. My son is home schooled. I don’t totally understand matching consequences with this. I’ve explained to him if he doesn’t do the scheduled work he cannot then go to “wherever” when that somewhere comes up, which is every week. I’ve explained it, we have done it. We are getting no where. Can you give me some consequences that would actually work? I was an overly compliant child, and I had a willful child as a sister. I had to compromise a lot, to “stay alive” so to speak. I do some compromises with my son, but when I say something I mean it, he knows that. Help me, please! He is wayyyyyyy behind in his learning.



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