Take a few minutes to think about the last time your child made a bad choice or engaged in irresponsible behavior. Do you remember your response to your child?

As a parent, seeing our children make bad choices and engage in irresponsible behavior can make us feel a variety of emotions, from scared to frustrated to angry. But how we respond to our child’s actions has the capacity to do more than just recognize their error, it can also be a valuable teaching moment.

Most parents tend to use the words “punishment” or “discipline” when it comes to responding to their children’s undesirable behaviors. The distinction between these two words goes far beyond spelling to a drastic difference in definition.

  • This term as it relates to parenting is often used for making a suffer in order to learn better behavior.
  • This word has a more positive connotation and means “to teach.” To decide on an effective disciplinary action, a parent should ask what lesson they want to teach their child.

When it comes to discipline, the natural and logical consequences model can be quite useful. The goal of using natural and logical consequences is to encourage children through teaching to exhibit responsible and appropriate behaviors.

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are those that are the result of a natural flow of events with little to no interference from an adult.

An example of a natural consequence might be found in a young child who refuses to eat the dinner her mother prepared one evening. The child is not permitted to substitute snacks or other food in place of the dinner her mother prepared. She can be given another opportunity to eat that same dinner before going to bed. A natural consequence for the child refusing dinner multiple times before bed is generally hunger pangs and a growling stomach.

If the mother had made the child go to bed without allowing her to eat dinner, that would be considered a punishment. But by letting the child make the choice not to eat dinner, the child is then forced to learn her lesson through the natural consequence of lying in bed hungry.

Ultimately, a child that is perfectly healthy should not experience harmful effects from choosing to go to bed hungry. By letting her choose this situation for herself, a parent is teaching a child how to take more responsibility for eating food when it is provided at mealtimes.

Another example of a natural consequence is from my own home, where we employ a woman to assist us with housekeeping duties. In the beginning of her time with us, her English vocabulary was quite limited, which made it difficult for us to explain and for her to understand what items should be thrown away and which should be kept. This resulted in most of the items littering our floors to simply be thrown away.

As a natural consequence of having things on the floor being thrown away by the housekeeper, our children picked up their bedroom floors every night before her arrival the next day. We no longer have to ask them to clean their rooms; they make that choice on their own.

Logical Consequences

A logical consequence is usually defined as a circumstance structured by an adult as a logical response to a child’s irresponsible behavior.

A great example of issuing logical consequences with a child is setting curfew guidelines. For example, once a curfew is set, it is wise for a parent to also implement logical consequences for missing that curfew. A logical consequence might be that, for every ten minutes the teen is late coming home, he must return home an additional hour earlier than his set curfew the next time he goes out. If he comes in twenty minutes late on Friday night, he must come home two hours earlier on Saturday. No teen wants to lose time with friends, or his independence. So, as a direct result of a logical consequence for missing curfew, it can quickly become a nonissue altogether.

The ultimate goal of a logical consequence is to establish creative learning opportunities for children. This can be utilized in a multitude of ways. For example, a child who refuses to perform a specific chore may benefit from a logical consequence such as not being allowed to do something she wants to do until the chore is finished. It might sound something like this, “I’m sorry you chose not to clean your room.  Now you will have to put off going outside to play with your friends until your room is clean.”

For a season, my seven-year-old was a “night person” who battled bedtime every evening and struggled to be awake and ready for the school bus each weekday morning. One morning, she had a particularly difficult time getting up and missed the bus. Although my wife and I could have taken her to school as we had done in the past, we chose to implement a logical consequence in response to my daughter’s irresponsible behavior.

After she woke up, we discussed how we provided her with a ride to school every morning via the bus. However, since she stayed up so late and wasn’t able to get up, she no longer had access to that ride and was tasked with finding a new one. We brainstormed alternative ways to get to school like walking and riding. I congratulated her on these ideas and told her that, since she had missed the ride we provided her, I would be glad to call the telephone numbers of the parents of some of her friends so she could ask them to come pick her up. Embarrassed, she said she would rather walk. So, I accompanied her to school on my bicycle.

It took a minimal amount of time before she decided she would rather go to bed on time so she could get up on time and catch the bus to avoid having her father ride his bicycle next to her while she walked to school. Walking to school wasn’t a punishment, it was a logical consequence for irresponsible behavior.

The key to applying logical consequences is to do so while being firm, uncompromising, calm, and respectful, all with a good attitude. Most children will act out if they detect your motive as vengeful. By being calm and using a logical consequence to provide a positive learning experience, it makes it possible for a child to avoid being angry or entering a power struggle.

Natural and Logical Consequences

It is worth noting that some situations may require a blend of both natural and logical consequences, especially if the natural consequences of an action are inappropriate or dangerous to a child’s well-being.

Consider a young child playing in the street. A natural consequence is that she could be hit by a car. In this situation, a parent can institute a logical consequence such as firmly picking up the child, carrying  her into the house, and telling her, “If you choose not to play in the yard, you must play inside. We can try again tomorrow to see if you can play outside safely.”

The beauty of natural and logical consequences is that children tend to be more accepting of them than a punishment. This can result in a dramatic decrease of friction between a parent and child regarding their behavior. And in the end, that is the goal.

Dr G

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