Today is Wednesday, October 30, 2013.
Time out and grounding are two sides of the same coin, just different ends of the spectrum. Used judiciously, these techniques can be very effective in altering children's behavior.
For very young children, "time out" is a great technique, but it must be done carefully. The key is moderation. For very young children, time-outs should only last a couple of minutes. When they are kindergarten age and up, a time-out may last for a bit longer, perhaps 15 minutes at the most.
For third-graders and up, grounding is more appropriate. Kids can be restricted to the front yard, inside the house, or their room. Grounding should involve taking away bicycle or skateboard privileges for younger kids, and teens should relinquish their car keys to the parents for the duration of the grounding. (Parents will have to make sure their kids do not have an extra set of car keys.) If your child's room has a TV or if your child has electronics, such as a computer, a smartphone, a tablet or iPad, digital music player, radio, or gaming device in their room, a time-out in their room is not going to be much of a deterrent. I'll write more about this topic tomorrow.
Grounding should last no more than a few hours, or perhaps a day at a time for a child in in elementary school. Junior high school kids and up may be grounded for longer periods, but generally speaking, anything longer than a week will provide diminishing returns. Loss of privileges works better for longer periods than grounding, but parents of teenagers will have to spend a lot of time chauffering or chaperoning their kids if car privileges are taken away. If the grounding involves loss of TV privileges, then other members of the family may have to be prepared to make sacrifices, especially in a household with only one TV. If the child is restricted to the house, someone needs to be there to enforce the grounding.
Occasionally parents overreact and set too harsh or too long a grounding. In that case, the parent should be prepared to apologize for reacting in anger, and giving the child a reprieve, but only for good behavior. However, parents should take into consideration that if the child's behavior is not good, it is probably because the disciplinary action was too harsh to begin with. Remember that a grounding that lasts longer than a week will be very hard to follow through with, and the best disciplinary action is always consistent. The child should be allowed to express his or her anger – keeping in mind that this is a natural reaction of an emotionally immature person. As long as the anger response does not involve destruction of property or bodily harm, it should be permitted. It will take some emotional maturity of your own to ignore tantrums and whining, but if you are as emotionally mature as you think you are, you should be able to handle it.
Even convicts in prison know how long their sentence is, and it should be no different with kids who are grounded. The child needs to know how long the grounding is going to last and when it is over. Kids also need to know exactly what they can and cannot do while they are grounded. For teens, this may mean staying in his or her room (or another assigned rom) except for attending school, eating meals, or performing household chores. Kids who are grounded should not watch TV, play video games, use radios, digital music players, or the telephone. They should not be allowed to have visitors, snacks or reading materials except for school books. There should be no outside activities except for school, work or church. If the family has a commitment to an activity or an outing scheduled, a responsible adult must stay at home with the teen. A short, but severe grounding with limited activities is a better choice than grounding a teen for weeks on end.
If the child or teen has broken some property, a limited form of grounding, such as having certain privileges taken away, may last until he or she has made restitution for the damaged article, but the child will have to be given ways to earn money to pay for a replacement or have it repaired.
Parents can administer a modified grounding by listing some household chores on index cards, one chore per card. Each card should include a detailed description of the job and expectations for satisfactory completion of the job. When a misbehavior occurs, one card can be chosen at random and the child told that he or she will be grounded until the job has been done to the parent's satisfaction. If the misbehavior is severe, more than one card can be drawn. Remember that all chores should be age-appropriate and safe. Your list of chores might include scrubbing down the family bathroom, cleaning the garage, washing the family car, vacuuming the living room, or washing all the windows in the house. The time to choose these chores is in advance, when you can sit down with your teen to choose 10-15 jobs that generally need to be done around the house. It's too late to choose these jobs when the disciplinary action needs to be taken. This has to be set up in advance.
In all cases, the child should understand exactly what it was that he or she did wrong and how to avoid the violation in the future. The child should be reassured that you do indeed love him or her, and that you have the child's best interest at heart. :-)