Understanding Consequences and How They Work

Your child understands consequences the minute you feed them the first time because they were crying. Consequences are outcomes – negative or positive – of a person’s action. Young infants understand that when they are uncomfortable – they are wet, hungry cold, etc. – they can cry and it will produce a positive outcome as a consequence. Consequences, by their nature, gauge our behavior because we as humans strive for positive consequences or we try our best to avoid negative outcomes and behaviors. When dealing with disciplining our children, there are two types of consequences that parents will need to be understand: natural and logical. Both of these types can be positive or negative. To help you get a handle of what each type means, I’ll define them and give both a positive and negative example. Natural consequences occur naturally, hence the name. They are not controlled or manipulated by anyone, they simply just happen. When you heat water, it boils. That is a positive example of natural consequences. When you put your finger in an electric socket, you get a shock. That is an example of negative natural consequences because it hurt. Note that natural consequences happen whether you know what the outcome will be or not and you cannot control what the outcome will be unless you control the behavior.

Logical consequences are situations engineered by the person in authority and they are logically connected to the wrong. It is logical because it “fits” the offense. For example, if your child runs across the street without looking, you tell them they aren’t allowed to go outside alone. If your teen gets caught on their cell phone in the middle of the night, you take the cell phone away the next night. That is an example of negative logical consequences. Setting up a reward system for doing their chores and giving the reward when the chore is done is an example of a positive logical consequence.

Is Spanking an Appropriate Logical Consequence?

I don’t believe in ‘spankings’. Mostly, because they can break down the trust and bonding between a parent and a child. There are other ways to get the appropriate outcome that don’t do that. But, when the natural consequence could be death or extreme pain, and your child is not developmentally capable of understanding about death or extreme pain, I think a small amount of pain is needed. If you catch your toddler ready to place his finger in an electric socket, slapping their hand once will give them the indication that their action causes pain, and it is a lot less painful than the natural consequence.

What Should Parents Use? Deciding Between Natural or Logical Consequences

When parents want their children to learn from their mistakes, they have the choice of allowing the child to deal with the natural consequences or setting up logical consequences. But how do you choose between the two types of consequences? When is one more effective than the other? When natural consequences are immediate they are very effective. If your your child touches a hot pot, they will get burned and they are not likely to do that again. Many times, however, natural consequences are not immediate or are too dangerous to allow. Playing with matches does not always have immediate consequences. Either does not wearing a seat belt when driving. Both actions, though, could have dire natural consequences in the future that no one wants. Therefore, the natural consequences aren’t what a parent should use to teach their child the responsibility of their own safety and it is up to the parents to sort out a logical consequence that will promote the desired behavior. Another instance of when logical consequences will be more effective than natural consequences is while your teen is getting a high school education. The benefits of good grades in school are so far off into the future that teens do not fully comprehend them, if they pay attention to them at all. While your teen can repeat what they have been told: ‘good grades will get you into a good college and you’ll make more money’, until they see the type of job or paycheck a college education can get, they will not understand the difference. Logical consequences, including rewards for good grades and privileges taken for poor grades work best as your teen can fully understand these.

A Word of Caution! Don’t Always Try to Control the Consequences

As parents who let our children out into the world – or will in the future – we do not need to react to every action with a consequence. That may be actually more harmful than you may think. You’ll find that often, natural consequence are the better choice for the parent to make because if you were to place logical consequences in certain situations, you would be taking away your child’s right to make their own choices and mistakes – both are learning experiences and important to self-worth and self-esteem. For instance, when your child gets in trouble in the classroom or when they make a new friend who isn’t all that nice. Their teacher gets angry or their friend does something bad. Your child will learn not to get in trouble at school or not to hang out with that ‘friend’. Unless, you step in. Then, the only thing they learn is that they need you to fix everything. Parents will need to hold their tongue and refrain from giving their opinions in order to let the natural consequences – positive or negative – happen. Discipline choices should never be taken lightly. Thinking them through is an important part of being a successful parent. Hopefully, knowing the difference between natural and logical consequences will help you make the better choices for you and your children.

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