I never thought I would have children. I suddenly walked into a beautiful little 7-year-old's life, with the commitment of becoming the best mother I can be to her. But sometimes, I question whether my decisions in relation to disciplining are too harsh. I feel that I treat her older than she is, and catch myself saying, "she's only 7, lighten up." I'm new to parenting, and because of that, another part of me says, this is the time to form her by teaching right from wrong so I'm not being harsh.

Let me explain. She has been slacking in school (poor grades, rushing through assignments, forgetting homework). She is aware that low grades aren't acceptable. Me and her father have went with the "grounding" route before, so we decided to ground her. I had mentioned it being Halloween to him, and he instantly said that's too extreme. Being a 7-year-old, I agree. So I took all of her toys away. Is this too much?

My concerns are whether what I'm grounding her is too harsh given she is only 7. This question aroused when her father asked me why she couldn't play with her colors. She plays with her colors for entertainment daily, so that, along with the rest of her favorable toys, is what I took away as a course of disciplinary action. As there are no disagreements among the household on my course of action, my concerns still exist.


4 Answers 4


I have found that positive reinforcement works better than punishment when you want to encourage good behavior (as opposed to stopping bad behavior).

You might want to work out a system of rewards that would encourage her to put more effort into her schoolwork. 7 is young enough for a point system to still be effective (teenagers, not so much). Sit down with your husband and come up with your expectations for her work. This is what she is expected to do every day. This is what she is expected to do on weekends. This is what we want her to get for grades. Then come up with a reward system which is both appropriate and obtainable. Don't set the bars too high or she will be too discouraged to try, or she will judge that the rewards aren't worth the effort.

When I created my point system, I decided that if my kids were going to do nothing more than they were already doing, they would get, maybe, three "points" per week. Just enough for a small treat that shouldn't be any big deal. I considered it "priming the pump". Then I asked myself how much I would be willing to "pay" for maximum effort. Then I calculated and assigned everything in between.

Some people reward with money, but I prefer a point system that can be adjusted depending on my own values. When my kids were young, I gave them pennies spray painted with gold paint for getting ready for bed on time, for doing chores, for getting good grades. The pennies themselves weren't worth much, but they could be exchanged for anything they wanted. I used a sliding exchange rate depending on what they wanted. If my son asked for dried fruit, I'd give him a couple of dollars worth per penny. Fresh fruit got an even better rate. Candy bars usually cost him 5-10 pennies each. If he really wanted them that bad, I was okay with it because that was our deal. But I'd rather he chose the fruit. They could also get toys, movies, outings. My six year old daughter saved her pennies until she had 300 of them, and then used them to "pay" for a family vacation to the coast :)


If she is getting poor grades, etc, telling that she improve her grades will not work at this age/stage of life. You need to provide step by step approach.

  1. Talk to her to identify any problems. If she denies having any problems, you point them out to her.
  2. Make a plan to remedy the problem. Most of the times, kid will need consistent and sustained practice in the given area. If reading is a problem, make sure to work on reading for 15 mins everyday (or every weekday).
  3. There will be plenty of resistance. You can get over it by the point system for rewards. In my house it was - you put full effort on these 3 well defined exercises and you can play video games for half an hour. Do not overwhelm the kid - the work should take no more than 15 mins at her full effort. For the first few weeks the kid may take a couple of hours to do it, but keep at it with patience. If she does not do it, the only thing she looses is the immediate reward.
  4. Once she consistently does her work, slowly her grades will improve. At the end of the reporting period, you can point out how her hard work has shown results.
  5. She will slowly develop good work habits. For my kid, it took about 2 years - I still have to tell him what to work on each day, but he asks for it, and does it willingly.

One thing to note here is that the reward/consequence is never after getting the grade report. The grade report only informs what to focus on next. The reward/consequence is to motivate the daily consistent practice that is needed for improvement.

Some good parenting books may help you. I personally liked:

  • Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline by Barbara Coloroso
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen...And Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish

Others may suggest other books. My approach would be to read the books, and pick the parts which you think will work in your life. All parental figures should be on-board for the plan. Also, plan should be flexible enough to avoid power struggles, but not too flexible that everyday work is skipped. You with her father should figure out the balance.

And yes, as pointed out, taking all toys away is pretty harsh and random. Always discuss with kid and give the kid a chance to recover before punishing. For example, you may have a rule - homework first, play later. You need to tell this to the kid a lot of times before she starts playing. If she still starts playing, then you separate her from the toys and put the toys away from reach. All this is enormous amount of overhead for you, but she is at the right age to guide her towards good work habits - old enough to understand, but not a teen where one just rebels.

You also need to build a healthy relationship with her for any of your discipline to work. A large percent (say 95%) of your interactions should be happy and positive for you (any parental figure) to be able to discipline the kid.

Kids will be kids, pick your battles.

  • I second the recommendation for the Faber and Mazlish book. It's tough to read since so much of what we do deviates from the ideal, but it was a very good lesson in techniques that work in these kinds of situations. Haim Ginott's works are also good.
    – SGo
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 2:47
  • Their suggestion to use humor backfired on me because my kid kept doing things he should not be doing (for example, he'd just lay naked in bed when he's supposed to be getting dressed, and I'd say, in my silliest voice - are you going to go to school that way...). Finally he told me that he really enjoys my silly statements, and thats why he does it. So now I pull my serious face, and stern voice...
    – user61034
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 3:08

While this is inevitably subjective, my short answer would be: yes, I think that taking all of a child's toys away is much too harsh. The reason is not just the pain caused to the child, but because it's counterproductive. Your concern is about lack of concentration, but are removing the key source of relaxation and calm - which means your child will be more anxious, more upset and less likely to concentrate or work.

I strongly support Francine's point, and having seen both approaches with my kids, I can testify that it works far better. Like miraculously better.

Also, a points system encourages rule based behaviour by all parties, whereas punishments like removing toys send a message of arbitrariness - you can take her toys but you can also restore them, and there's no rule binding you either way. I think that encourages resentment and tantrums. The child feels dominated by an unfair and powerful adult. In a points system you send the message that you are bound as much as they are - and they enjoy it, I find, and value the sense of respect and dignity it sends. When I use this system I stress how much I'm also bound (mock pouting with "oh, dang, now I have to get this for you" when reward time comes, which always gets us all laughing) and it becomes a lesson in itself in accountability.


Academic achievement in children is up to parents.

I would say that grounding a 7 year old is excessive, and not likely to improve behavior. Punishing a 7 year old for not being good at school is counter-productive, she could develop a really bad relationship towards learning that will cause more problems down the road.

Children need parental support with their schoolwork, at 7 they aren't going to be in a scholarly frame of mind, even when they're in their teens they'll still need some supervision and encouragement. Schools can teach children to a point, but it's up to parents to teach their children how to study and reinforce school lessons. So, set up a routine of doing homework every day, and sit with her while she does her schoolwork. Look at how she does it, where she has difficulties and help her to understand the material. Be encouraging, positive and patient - yelling and criticizing will accomplish nothing. It may be challenging at first, I can't do it! It's too hard! I don't want to! But persist and offer rewards rather than thundering tirades and you will be surprised how quick it can turn around. It ain't always easy!

I try to work school lessons into everyday life as well: what time will it be in 20 minutes? How is this spelled? Which can of tomatoes should I buy and why? If they see an application to their school work they take more of an interest.

  • I was hesitant about a reward system, especially with things that she knows she has to do - eating healthy, brushing her teeth, doing good in school etc. These things have to be done, and in the real world, there are no rewards for taking care of ones self. My approach was to explain why these things are important to do daily. If I was to do the reward system route, what happens when that system is stopped?. Does her responsibilities stop too? when more responsibilities come with time, would she expect to be rewarded? If she isnt, would she be hesitant to take on her responsibilities? Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 16:01
  • A reward system isn't supposed to be gratification for everything done right @StephenieHaltom, you don't give an M&M for every question answered, it's setting stretch goals and having rewards for attaining them. When a goal is reached another is set. Positive encouragement isn't a reward system.
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 16:23
  • Rewards are effective if they are used sparingly for establishing habits, to make a terrible thing palatable. Example, learning multiplication tables. Also, use things that they do anyway. For example, do homework, then watch TV. Eating healthy can be established by limiting snacks in the house, and eating healthy together. Brushing can be done together with a parent or sibling. There are various ways to establish habits, and rewards are only one small way.
    – user61034
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 17:16
  • 1
    @Stephanie - I disagree. There are in fact rewards in life for discipline and good behaviour - namely grades, success, love, friendship etc. When we implement a reward system we are only making the process of rewards more concrete rather than asking that a child understand abstract long term goals and then punishing them for failing to do so. That said, I agree with Francine and the above - we start with a minimum for routine and then reward stretch goals
    – SGo
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 3:04
  • Update: Bc of every single answer to my question, my mind did open up more, I was able to see other perspectives, and I DID try a reward system. I wrote all of her responsibilities down, with how many "points" they are worth. She does them - add points, doesnt - deduct. Shes steadily writing more "chores" down herself, to get more points. Despite that she now has more "responsibilities" than before the reward system, she is stoked to receive points and it has even become a mother-daughter activity, bringing us closer together!! Thanks everyone!! Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 21:56

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