Natural and Logical Consequences
Are you a permissive parent? Do you sometimes wonder if physical punishment might be the best teacher? According to Dr. Ken West, professor and director of the Center for Family Education at Lynchburg College in Virginia, natural and logical consequences serve as alternatives to permissiveness and physical punishment and are the best teachers for children.
Natural consequences, alternatives to permissiveness and physical punishment, are the best learning experiences for people of any age.
A natural consequence occurs when parents do not intervene in a situation but allow the situation to teach the child. The technique is based on the adage: “Every generation must learn that the stove is hot.”
If ice cream is left on a counter, it melts. When children refuse to eat, they become hungry. If people stay awake too late at night, they will be tired the next day. When a child loses a baseball glove, she will not have a mitt for the next game. If, despite warnings from the lifeguard, a child runs beside the pool, he may fall and skin his knees. When children forget to take their lunch money to school, they will have nothing to eat.
In each of the cases above, the child learns from the natural consequences of his behavior. The experience becomes the teacher. Parents do not need to intervene. On the contrary, adults should refrain from saying anything, particularly variations on the “I told you so” theme. If parents intervene by lecturing or by dispensing additional punishment, they risk destroying the natural learning situation by creating power struggles.
Natural consequences always work, but at times, they can be too severe or the natural consequence can be too delayed to be effective. In these cases, logical consequences should be used. For example, the natural consequence of running into the street is obviously unacceptable. Not allowing the child to play outside for a period of time offers a more logical consequence. Failure to brush one’s teeth will result in cavities. However, that natural consequence will occur too late to be a deterrent. Therefore, not allowing sweets to children who refuse to brush their teeth works more effectively.
The most effective discipline parents can provide allows nature to run its course. Bite your tongue. Don’t offer additional punishment. Simply allow the natural consequences of a child’s behavior to be the teacher.
Logical consequences teach children to accept responsibility for their mistakes and misbehavior.
The secret of a good consequence is its logical connection to the misbehavior. If a child breaks a window, it is not logical for him or her to lose television rights, endure a speech, or receive a spanking. None of these responses is related to the “crime.” Paying for a new window, however, is both logical and educational.
After a two-year-old child rushes into the street, logic dictates that the child loses the right to play outside for a period of time. Then, when the child is allowed outside play again, parents need to quickly encourage him or her for playing within the rules. Other alternatives can be less educational and lead to more difficulties.
When raised to accept the natural and logical consequences of behaviors, in time young people begin to ask: What will be the consequences of my making this decision? Am I willing to accept these consequences? Or, having made a mistake, they will ask: What is my logical responsibility to others for having made this mistake?
Consequences work best when they are made and agreed upon in advance. Family meetings provide a good opportunity, for example, to agree upon the future consequences of failing to do chores, swearing, missing curfews, fighting, or breaking important family rules.
When consequences cannot be agreed upon in advance, then parents must create a one-time consequence that connects the misbehavior with a logical consequence. In a power struggle, one-time consequences seem more like punishment to a child; but as long as parents are confident of the logical connection between the misbehavior and the consequence, they will feel confident in their discipline techniques.
Consequences need to be logically connected to the misbehavior or mistake. Do not warn, threaten or moralize. Children need to trust you. When they misbehave, young people must know that consequences will follow as predictably and naturally as the sun sets in the evening.
Adapted from The Shelbys Need Help: A Choose-Your-Own-Solutions Guidebook for Parents, by Dr. Ken West. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers, Inc., PO Box 6016, Atascadero, CA 93423-6016, www.bibliotherapy.com or phone 1-800-246-7228.