How to Effectively Impose Consequences for Bad Behavior

If you've tried everything to get through to your teenager, and nothing is working, don't despair. The Savvy Psychologist, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, joins Mighty Mommy with 4 expert tips on how to use consequences to minimize bad behavior.

Cheryl Butler
4-minute read

As the mom of 8 kids, I get asked dozens of questions about how I survived the countless sleepless nights with my newborns, overcame the struggles of toilet training, and managed to keep my sanity intact while being a stay-at-home mom with so many young children underfoot. But the question I'm asked most often hands down is how to handle a defiant and rebellious child.

Hundreds of Mighty Mommy listeners have written to ask for guidance on effective strategies that will turn their disobedient child into one that is respectful and well-mannered.  I've addressed this topic in several previous episodes, including 6 Tips for Handling a Defiant Toddler and 6 Ways to Handle a Defiant Teen (Without Yelling), but today, I'm thrilled to have my colleague, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, otherwise known as the Savvy Psychologist, join me in addressing the topic that continues to weigh heavily on so many parents' minds.

Together, Dr. Hendriksen and I have sorted through the mailbag and chose two of the most common questions about defiant kids. Check out the 4 solutions for defiance and back talk here.

How to Effectively Impose Consequences for Bad Behavior 

A frustrated Mighty Mommy listener wrote in:

"When my teen breaks curfew or lies about his whereabouts, we impose consequences. We've tried grounding, taking away electronics, increasing chores, but nothing is working.  How do we enforce consequences that would get his attention?"

I hear you on this one - this is a really infuriating situation.  Getting lied to is maddening and not knowing where he is can be downright scary.  Try the following steps:

Tip #1: Choose one battle at a time.  Parents give their kids dozens of commands a day.  I know I’d feel rebellious if someone was on my behavior all the time; you probably would, too.  Same for your teen.  So pick one big battle.  Who cares if he wears black nail polish?  So what if her room is messy? Save your energy for the important stuff; in this case, making curfew.

Tip #2: Be super-specific and write it down.  With a big problem like this, you can’t make it up as you go. Make a super-specific definition of what is expected.  You want to anticipate arguments like “But that wasn’t breaking curfew - I called you at 11pm to tell you I was on my way,” or “I wasn’t in the house, but I was in the car in the driveway talking; you never said I had to be inside!”  

You’ll know you’re being specific enough if it can be checked off on a list.  For example, your new super-specific curfew rule might be “Curfew is achieved if your entire body is inside the house at 11pm or earlier, as measured by the clock on your cell phone.  11:01pm or later is considered late.”  Write it down and hang it on the fridge.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.