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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