Part 2: What Makes a Consequence Logical?

In Part 1, I talked about the differences between natural consequences, logical consequences, and punishments.  In positive discipline, natural consequences are appropriate and effective in helping children learn.  They are the preferred method of discipline (yes, it’s still considered discipline even if we don’t DO anything) for giving children valuable learning experiences.

Logical consequences are a popular discipline tool, but they are risky.  As stated in Part 1, a logical consequence is one “that ‘fits’ with the circumstances”.  However, this leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  When parents experience difficult behavior from children and their emotions are running strong, it becomes very easy to turn what is intended as a logical consequence into a punishment. 

So what makes a consequence truly logical?  As a general rule of thumb, if you have to think too hard about what to do to a child so that he learns a lesson, the logical consequence is most likely a punishment in disguise.   To ensure that logical consequences don’t become punitive:

First try to figure out what the natural consequence is.  We can do this by taking ourselves out of the situation.  “What would happen if I stepped out of this and let my child handle this problem?”  Would there be a natural challenge she would have to deal with on her own?  That might be a valuable learning experience for her.

Sometimes, though, a problem requires a parent’s involvement, in which case we can focus on solutions.  Think of difficult behavior not as a lesson to be learned, but a problem to be solved.  Consider, “What do we need to do to solve this problem?” rather than, “What do I need to do so that my child learns a lesson?”

When coming up with possible solutions to a problem, make sure that they follow the 4 Rs: 

  • Related—the consequence must be related to the behavior.  A child tries out his new markers…directly on the kitchen floor. A related consequence is that he must wash the marker off the floor.  An unrelated consequence would be if he were required to clean up the whole toy room.
  • Respectful—the consequence must be kindly enforced; no blame, shame, or pain.  Respectful: “Here’s a wet rag so that you can wipe the marker off the floor.”  Disrespectful: “Look what you did!  I can’t believe you colored marker all over the floor!  You better clean this mess up NOW.”
  • Reasonable—the consequence is in proportion to the problem.  Reasonable: The child needs to wash the marker off the floor.  Unreasonable: The child needs to wash the entire kitchen floor.
  • Revealed in advance—allow the child to know what will happen if a certain behavior occurs.  “Please keep the marker on the paper.  You’ll have to clean up any marker that gets on the floor.”

Something else that helps keep a consequence from becoming punitive is to give a child choice in the matter, and to ask for their input in solving a problem.  The choices a child is offered should always follow the 4 Rs above.

You can either get a spray bottle and a rag, or use a wet sponge.  Which would you like to use to clean this?  Do you have another idea for how you could clean this up?  Would you like me to help by getting a wet towel for you?

When using positive discipline, we try for natural consequences first, and approach the use of logical consequences conscientiously.  We can ensure that these “consequences” are truly relevant and respectful and not an arbitrary punishment in disguise by instead approaching them as “solutions”.  Our relationships with our children will benefit from the kindness and firmness of this positive discipline style, as well as from the cooperation and respect we demonstrate to our kids.

Kelly is an API Leader and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor in Portland, Oregon.  She blogs at Parenting From Scratch.

Author: Kelly Bartlett

Kelly Bartlett is the author of "Encouraging Words For Kids" and "Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! So Am I.)" She is an API leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator in Portland Oregon.

10 thoughts on “Part 2: What Makes a Consequence Logical?”

  1. Hi there. It’s easy to confuse methods with principles. Attachment parenting (and API) is often thought of as synonymous with bed-sharing and breastfeeding, for example, when as API leaders and members we know that attachment parenting is about our focus on the relationship we have with our children.

    With that in mind, and in the spirit of your post, I’d like to clarify that there is a difference between positive discipline as a principle and Positive Discipline as a strategy. It’s the difference between a map and directions — if we have a map, we see our destination and figure out how to get there. With directions, we’re relying on someone to tell us what to do to get where we want to go.

    The directions provided by Positive Discipline may get you to your destination. It’s also important to recognize that other API members may have the same destination, but an entirely different way of getting there. We can use positive discipline, as it is described in the API principles, without using Positive Discipline — including incentives or consequences.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    – Jenni Pertuset
    Leader, API Seattle

    1. Jenni, I read the API description of positive discipline and think it describes Positive Discipline very well except for the part about praise and incentives. In Positive Discipline we have always been concerned about the dangers of praise and incentives teaching an “external locus” of control—which recent research has verified.
      It is interesting that we start all of our Positive Discipline classes with an activity called, “What do you want for your children?” (characteristics and life skills) to create a roadmap. We then show how PD methods can provide directions encourage children to develop these qualities.
      Just as come people think of API only as bed sharing and breast feeding, people often misinterpret Positive Discipline by one thing they hear out of context. I think that Positive Discipline and API are fundamentally on the same page. 🙂

  2. Hi Jenni! Yes, I completely agree with you that parents can take many routes on the path to positive discipline. There are so many fabulous PD tools (like using non-punitive logical consequences), and they provide a variety of positive discipline techniques in many combinations fitting for every family, parent, child, and situation.

    What all PD “routes”, or tools, have in common is that they’re non-punitive; they are not based on punishments, rewards, threats, or bribes. So yes, parents can find their own way within the principal of Positive Discipline, but there are certain avenues that are open and others that are definitely closed.

    This purpose of this post was just to take a look at one discipline strategy parents commonly use, and to clarify how it is applied under the gudelines of positive discipline.

  3. Hi Kelly, I love your posts. They are gentle, thorough and helpful. Parents often have a difficult time thinking of a logical consequences the 4 Rs, but they are quick to use a punishment such as grounding and taking away privileges and calling that a logical consequences. This is one reason why it is more helpful to think in terms of solutions and of what the child will learn long-term than in making the child PAY for what he or she just did. 🙂

  4. Thanks so much for these great posts. I agree wholeheartedly with the natural and logical consequences. Jane makes a good point that it’s a fine line with the logical consequences, and I sure see myself getting close to crossing it at times, but taking the time to go through the Rs and discuss things after an incident, when we can invite our children to participate in determining what would be a related logical consequence for the misbehavior, has really been a saving grace. And I’m saying that about an almost 3 year old! PD has been a Godsend in our home.

  5. I’m struggling with my four year old hitting my 1 year old. Not out of the blue. Usually in response to baby trying to get the older ones toy. Sometimes it just takes the little one looking or moving in that direction not necessarily touching the toy. What would be a consequence of hitting? If he really has a hard time I tell him to take the toy to the table or up to a playroom upstairs. It usually helps but sometimes I can’t diffuse the situation in time.

    1. Hi Beth,

      Thanks for reaching out for ideas. There are many different approaches for hitting in your preschooler, but since its directed toward your baby, it makes me think that there’s an element of new sibling jealousy. We like how you have been watching for signs that lead to the behavior. Rather than determining an appropriate consequence to his hitting, it is often more effective to be proactive — learning the signs that the behavior is about to happen (great!) and putting into practice steps to redirect his response. Perhaps this is a time for you to step in and model how to play together and share, as well as validate your son’s frustration toward his younger sibling without condoning it. Often our children just want to know that we understand them and their strong emotions, and then it’s easier to redirect that anger elsewhere besides a sibling and express in a way that is not hitting, perhaps through a picture drawing or talking to you. It may also then be easier to encourage him to simply move away when baby is reaching for his toy, or to give baby a different toy to play with. These are just a few ideas, but please take away the idea that a negative consequence/punishment is not required as part of discipline.

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