A Fresh Look at a Popular Form of Discipline
I was grounded today. We all were, in fact. I blame my nine-year-old, and he blames me, but we had crossed the point of no return, and the only thing that could happen was a grounding for us all. Because I cannot ground a 9-year-old and leave him on his own all day, the entire tribe was forced inside, and activities were limited for the oldest. The term “grounding” is such an interesting one when it is used in reference to the loss of privilege and the isolation from friends and fun. It is only one of literally a dozen definitions of “ground” and “grounding” and it is not even the formal verb definition. “To ground”, as a verb, is most commonly used in reference to keeping a plane from flying, and in the informal use it refers to keeping a person from a place as a punishment. When you are dealing with an active 9-year-old boy, the formal and informal definitions both apply.
The place we couldn’t go today was the house of good friends who we have not seen in almost a year. There are only a handful of things that my son could have done that would have warranted a grounding from their house, but hitting his sister, to the point of bruising, definitely qualifies. I think he truly thought that our activities for the day were too important to be cancelled, but what he learned is that the mental health and connectedness of my children is too important to ignore.
I endured the proclamation that he hates me and that I am a son-of-a-gun (and unbelievably he actually used the word gun instead of the alternative.) I drove around until he was calmed enough to go back into the condo without evoking a call to police, and then the grounding commenced.
One use of the word “grounding” has to do with charged particles in a circuit of electricity, and when they come across a “grounded” object the potential for those charged particles is diminished. That transformation literally happened behind the closed doors of my son’s temporary room, but I presented myself as the grounding rod. I handed my son a pad of paper with an unfinished sentence on the top: “I hate my life because…” and I told him to write as much as he needed to in order to finish the sentence. He brought the sheet out to me when he was done, and I sat down with him, numbering 8 things that he had listed. We started to go through each concern and we dissected those things that he could effect change upon, and those things that he was not allowed to worry about any more. His face softened, the genuine tears rolled, and we discovered a number of anxieties he had, as of yet, been unable to communicate. I couldn’t fix every concern of his, but I helped to diminish a few of those charged particles.
An online free dictionary that I found did not reference the use of the term “well grounded” but I know that I am not alone in my parenting quest to hope for well grounded kids. I want them to be “down to earth”, and I guess I can make the connection to earth while talking about grounding because “earth” is the most popular definition of the noun ground. The soil that I hope to put under the feet of our growing kids needs to be rich and nourishing, and the only way that I know how to provide that is through positive reinforcement and encouragement. After we spent some time removing some of my son’s charged particles, I handed him another piece of paper with a different unfinished sentence at the top: “I like my life because…” He had to finish that sentence too, but this time he had to come up with ten endings. We were back to better after this exercise was done, and the grounding from friends became an exercise in much more than punishment.
When I was “grounded” as a kid, I would lose toys or an opportunity to go play with friends, and that has not changed. I saw little to no redemption in my grounding, and my son may not see the value yet either. However, now that I am the hand that forces the grounding, my perspective about its use as an effective growing tool has changed dramatically. It is a time to slow down, turn off the electronics, quiet the noise of summer playtime and listen to the boiling frustrations of a growing boy. I take very seriously the fact that when my kids do something grievous enough to get grounded, in this case it was a bruising blow to his sister, that they will indeed be forced to grow through the pain that a grounding seemingly causes. For this…I will always hold my ground.