When I was a foster mom, discipline techniques could be tricky. First of all, I would have a child that I didn’t know well. Part of having a successful relationship with a child is getting “buy-in” or making them feel like they were a part of this family, even if the word “foster” was in the mix. I avoided calling my kids “foster children” because that label has some unpleasant connotations. Even so, some behaviors albeit normal and expected, had to be dealt with.
One of my kids had a serious problem with ADHD, and an appropriate grounding to fit the infraction might last a week or two. A few days into a two week grounding and I realized that the punishment was affecting me as much or more than the kid. Then, we both started forgetting why this horrible event was playing out. Appropriate or not, the consequence was ineffective.
I started thinking, if my kid has a short attention span, what if the grounding was short also? The next question was, how will it fit what happened? Here is what I did.
First of all, we used a dry erase board. I recommend that part strongly, although a chalk board would also work. Let’s say a child has a really bad day at school and four things happened. The child kicked a fellow student’s desk, called the teacher a bad name, threw their books on the floor, and walked out of the classroom without permission. I would write all of the child’s privileges on the board: computer, video games, riding their bike, watching TV, visiting with friends, phone privileges, playing Legos, playing with siblings, etc. Out of this list, the child chose which four privileges they would give up and marked through them on the board. The privileges they still had were listed creating less sense of loss. I always made certain that there were one or two things on the list that they wouldn’t miss too much, for minor infractions.
When you allow your child to pick their consequences, they cannot complain about how mean you are. After all they chose what to give up. This also reinforces their ownership of the behavior, and it is immediate. You get to remain your child’s ally. You have the ability to say, “I really wish you could have kept your privilege to watch TV tonight.” Sometimes, it can lead to a conversation, not a lecture or argument, but a conversation about how to behave differently in the future.
The other advantage, and my favorite one, is wiping the slate clean the next morning. After an evening of giving up favorite things to do, clearing the dry erase board is a wonderful ceremony that reiterates that it is a new day and the child can start fresh. That ritual becomes very meaningful.
One day grounding also helps the child not to give up on behaving appropriately. If the grounding seems like it is going to last forever, they can lose the motivation to improve their behavior. One day grounding solves that issue.
On one particularly bad day at school, my kid was allowed to read on the couch before going to bed thirty minutes early: all other privileges had been removed. I was able to commiserate with them, because clearly a lot of feelings had emerged in their life to drive those behaviors. I was able to say, “I’m so sorry that you had a bad day. I wish you had chosen better ways to handle those things. But, tomorrow will be a new day and you can start over.” It was a touching moment where we were both felt sad together about all the events that had occurred.
As with all discipline techniques, not everything works for everybody. But, you might try this technique some time. It allows your child to own their behavior and the consequences; while, it frees you to remain in a supportive, positive parenting role.
(Image by: Flickr User James and Alex Bontempo: image altered with light adjustment and border)