Many parents choose to “ground” their kids when they make poor decisions. Maybe they lose access to video games for a week, or can’t watch TV for a month. Grounding in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Here are a few considerations:
- If you keep grounding your kid for the same behavior, then grounding is not changing the behavior. Sometimes grounding your child is a default response, but if it’s not working, you might want to consider some other options. You can take a look back at our series on differential reinforcement or our post on noncontingent reinforcement.
- When possible, the consequence should be connected to the behavior. If your child throws a controller, then not having access to video games makes great sense. However, if video games are taken away for any infraction, it may not be the most logical punishment and over time, it may even backfire. If the child is losing video games for everything, then he/she might stop trying to earn video games at all.
- Longer durations of grounding may make you miss out on opportunities for reinforcing appropriate behaviors. Remember that reinforcement is simply any consequence that increases the future likelihood of the behavior. If you have set a rule that your child is grounded from using video games for one year, then you are missing many, many opportunities to teach the appropriate behavior. The same can be said for one month or even for one week. Especially when considering children with autism, they may require multiple trials of the appropriate behavior before you see an increase in the appropriate behavior. In that case, grounding may just not be the best option.
- Longer durations of grounding may backfire if you experience fatigue. Often our kids are experts at asking the same question repeatedly until you finally give in. The last thing you want to do is set a standard that when you say your child is grounded for a week, they are really only grounded until they wear you down.
- Consider a different tactic. This isn’t possible for all behaviors, but if you are seeking a specific appropriate behavior, set a standard that if a certain duration or a certain number of appropriate behaviors results in more access to preferred items and activities. This is sort of the inversion of grounding and may be more successful.
WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, PhD, LBA, BCBA
Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. She is also an assistant professor in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.