Logical Consequences: Guiding Children Towards Better Choices

Many parents have heard that “logical consequences” are an effective parenting tool. Perhaps because the word “consequence” is often misused as a synonym for “punishment”, some parents express confusion as to the nature of logical consequences, how to apply them, and their purpose. The following questions and answers offer some clarity.

What are logical consequences?

Logical consequences are results that parents set up to educate children that are connected to choices that the children make. For instance, if a child chooses to talk on the phone instead of doing his homework, he might not be allowed to use the phone that day. Using the phone to avoid a productive activity resulted in not being allowed to use it; hence, the consequence is a “logical” outcome of the choice.

Why use logical consequences?

In addition to improving behavior, a program of logical consequences can lead children to make more effective choices and decisions, and may even result in greater self-confidence. In combination with other efforts, it can also help strengthen partnerships between parents and children and contribute to a more orderly and respectful family life.

What is the difference between logical consequences and punishment?

Because logical consequences are intended to help children grow and develop, the focus is on the child’s choices. If a child acts up at dinner and a parent applies a logical consequence, the parent might say respectfully, “All this noise makes it difficult for us to enjoy our meal. Would you like to stay and be calmer or be done with dinner for tonight?” The intent of punishment, in contrast, is usually to make a child comply with adults’ wishes, so the focus is generally on the actions that the adult imposes on the child. A parent applying punishment to the acting-up child might yell ““Go to your room!”

Although both punishment and logical consequences can lead to better behavior in the short term, long-term effects on the child and the parent-child relationship tend to be very different. Punishment may leave a child feeling helpless, humiliated, or resentful. When a child makes choices that lead to logical consequences, he often feels more capable and confident.

I’ve also heard about “natural consequences”; how are they different from logical consequences?

Like logical consequences, natural consequences stem from children’s choices, but they occur without the assistance of adult intervention. For instance, if a child does not apply himself when working on a project for school, he might get poor marks on it. Adults can help children learn from natural consequences principally by not protecting children them from them; in the above example, a parent can help a child experience the effects of his limited effort by refraining from doing the child’s work (although he might work with the child to help him manage his time better).

What is the best way of administering logical consequences?

Logical consequences work best if they arise as a result of a collaborative dialogue between parents and children, preferably in advance of any misbehavior. These discussions are most effective when preaching or moralizing is minimized, and choices and consequences are discussed matter-of-factly.

In applying a consequence, it is important to demonstrate respect for the child’s choice, even if it may be one that the parent did not want the child to make. If a parent and child have agreed that a child can either come home on time or not go out for a week, and the child comes home late, the parent might say “I see you decided to stay out late rather than go out this coming week” in a respectful and non-judgmental manner. The parent utilizes the consequence itself rather than any verbal “lesson” to lead the child towards better choices in the future.

What are some more examples of logical consequences?

While each household is unique, the following examples should give a flavor of the nature of logical consequences. Notice that the choices are emphasized first, and that the positive as well as the negative results are spelled out.

–A child can choose to get up on time and then stay up later, or get up late and go to bed earlier that night.
–A child can choose to eat breakfast and eat a variety of foods, or miss breakfast and pack a healthy snack.
–A child can choose to do his homework before or after supper; if he does not do his homework, he does it right after school the next day.
–A child can choose an afterschool activity; if child does not choose an after school activity, the parent offers a list of choices; if the child does not choose, the parent signs the child up for one.

What happens if the child does not ‘”choose” any of the agreed upon options?

Sometimes children choose actions not on the “menu” that parents and children have agreed upon. In instances such as these, if a parent refrains from immediately reacting and revisits the issue later, he can preserve the collaborative nature of the enterprise and still set a more effective limit. For instance, in an example from above, if a child “grabs” an unhealthy food on the way out the door even though he did not eat breakfast, the parent might refrain from grabbing the food item back. When the child returns home, the parent might note the child’s choice, and maintain that unhealthy foods need to be locked away until trust is rebuilt.

What other approaches might parents use in combination with logical consequences?

Logical consequences work best in an atmosphere where a child feels loved, respected, supported, and appreciated. Noticing a child’s efforts, showing confidence in his or her abilities, respectfully offering guidance, and making an effort to listen and understand his or her thoughts and feelings all help create such an atmosphere, and make logical consequences that much more effective.

-Posted by Jonah Green

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