SANE consequences

We’ve been talking a lot about challenging behavior lately. And yeah, even us Science of Parenting folks have children who challenge us!

Today we want to look at how we can respond to challenging behavior. Maybe your preschooler has been testing out new lies, or your school age child has been skipping homework, or your preteen is throwing attitude around like it’s confetti, or your teen is not touching base when they are out and about. Whichever one resonates with you, finding a way to respond to problematic behavior can be a challenge. How do we strike a balance between too harsh and too lax?

Luckily, the National Institute on Drug Abuse looks at research on how parents can help their kids stay on the right path, and they have a handy little acronym for helping parents identify appropriate consequences – SANE (and I mean that acronym has all kinds of double meaning, am I right?).

  • S – Small consequences are better 
    • When we are especially angry or frustrated with our child, chances are we are more likely to fly off the handle a bit with our consequences (Stop. Breathe. Talk. to save the day again!). Instead, try to find small consequences that relate directly to the child’s behavior. Like if your child is being difficult at bedtime because they want to watch more TV, you might consider taking away TV privileges for a few days.
  • AAvoid consequences that punish you
    • When we give consequences to our child, it needs to be something we can and will follow through on. But when we choose consequences that make our lives as parents more difficult, we might be less likelihood to carry out the consequences like we originally planned. So if your teenager is abusing their school permit, you may decide that they need to lose that privilege for a few days. You can avoid this from punishing you (by you having to drive them) by having your teenager have to find their own ride to school or maybe ride the bus.
  • N Nonabusive responses
    • Yup, we sometimes are very angry with our kids when they don’t meet our expectations, but we don’t want that anger to have so much power that we respond to our children in unhealthy ways. As we say at Science of Parenting, “Hitting Harms. Yelling Hurts.” (Another place where Stop. Breathe. Talk. can be our saving grace!)
  • EEffective consequences
    • Effective consequences are consequences that are under your control and that actually help deter your child from wanting to do that behavior again (non-rewarding). Of course, this is the whole point of consequences right!

So when we are thinking about consequences, try to stay SANE (you see what I did there?).



Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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