Natural and Logical Consequences

What's the difference, and how can they help your child behave?

natural and logical consequences - sad girl sitting and hugging herself
Natural and logical consequences help steer children toward good behavior.. Altrendo Images/Getty Images

Natural consequences, as the word "natural" implies, are what happens without any input or interference as a result of an action or decision. Some good examples of this would be a child refusing to put on a jacket when it's cold outside and then not having anything to wear when he feels chilled or a child repeatedly forgetting to bring money for lunch to school and then being hungry at lunchtime.

Logical consequences, on the other hand, are what's given to a child by a parent or caregiver when the child misbehaves or breaks a rule, and are ideally linked to the bad behavior.

For instance, a child who doesn't listen when told not to throw a ball around in the house and breaks a lamp may have to give up allowance money or do extra chores to help pay for a replacement; a child who is told not to ride her bicycle in the street but does so anyway may have the bike taken away for the rest of the day.

Consequences can be positive or negative. Going to bed on time will make a child feel rested and ready to learn the next day while fighting bedtime and staying up too late texting friends or watching TV will result in a child feeling groggy, cranky, and generally out of sorts the next day.

How Do Consequences Teach Kids--and Which One Should You Use?

As a general rule, logical consequences are usually the better choice when it comes to a child's health and safety. After all, you wouldn't allow a child to not brush her teeth and permit the natural consequence--cavities--to form in her mouth; in that case, a child refusing or forgetting to brush would be handled with a logical consequence, such as not getting any dessert or sweets when the rest of the family has some.

 

Both natural and logical consequences can help teach kids to make better choices and learn from their mistakes. (Your child is likely to not fight bringing a jacket the next time if he was shivering, for instance. And a child who loses access to his cell phone for texting too much is likely to remember not to do that again.) Some advantages of consequences to modify a child's behavior:

  • Consequences allow the bad choice or behavior problem to be distanced from your child. The action leads to the consequence; the focus is on the choice and the result, not on the child.
  • There's no shaming, judging, or punishment involved. A choice was made, and it led to something, short and simple. So if a child was not careful and lost or broke something, he will be asked how he will work to replace it, without making him feel bad about what he did.
  • Consequences take anger and punishment out of the equation and the put the focus on teaching. There is no need to react with emotion and be angry with your child since the consequence is what will teach him, not a long speech about what he did wrong or yelling or punishment.
  • It puts the responsibility and choice in your child's hands.

Smart Ways to Use Natural and Logical Consequences

  • Remember that threats and punishment are not necessary. "If you don't stop it right now, I'm going to..." isn't necessary because it's understood that if your child does "x," there will be a "y" result. Making a list of consequences will help your child see what the results will be when he makes bad choices.
  • Keep in mind that it's all about reminding your child of her choices. Instead of threats like, "If you don't stop kicking your brother right now, I'm going to put you in time out!" you can simply remind your child that she has choices: She can either stop kicking her brother or sit and calm down and think about her actions until she's ready to apologize and join the rest of the family.
  • Stay consistent. If your child expresses anger or resentment when he faces the consequence, stay calm and remind your child that this was his choice. Do not give in and let him have his way.
  • Let the consequence fit the mistake. If your child doesn't pick up his toys or clothes after he's been asked, the consequence may be that he doesn't get to play with his toys--or computer or video games--until he's ready to clean up after himself.
  • Take emotion out of your interaction and speak in a friendly but firm tone. There's no need to get angry or upset with your child since it's a simple matter of cause and effect--a mistake leads to a consequence.
  • Don't talk about the past--stick to the now and the immediate future. Avoid saying things like, "You never listen" or "You always forget." Stick to the behavior at hand, and the choice your child makes that will lead to an outcome. Try not to dwell on past actions or make judgments about her future actions.

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