How to Put Logical Consequences into Action for Your Kids
The latest 'Growing Up' column
Consequences are a cornerstone of discipline. Whether doled out by a caregiver or the result of a child’s actions, consequences help children learn about the world around them and reinforce important life lessons about responsibility, respect and relationships. Natural consequences that occur without any action from the parent, and logical consequences, those a parent might implement to help guide a child’s learning, both encourage reflection, build skills, as well as foster social and emotional growth. When consequences aren’t carefully considered, they can fuel power struggles, resentment and even retaliation. We sort out consequence confusion with age-by-age tips so your approach is effective, and comes with skill, empathy and love.
Your child may understand basic cause-and-effect consequences sooner than you think. As your baby becomes mobile, set loving limits to help her feel safe. For example, you may choose to use a gate to keep your baby out of your craft room after you’ve removed her from the space several times.
“A child’s basic ability to learn cause and effect develops in the first few weeks of life,” says licensed family therapist and “Love & Logic” instructor Ashleigh Bryan, owner of Charlotte Therapy Associates.
Although logical consequences can be used during these early years, it’s a strong parent-child attachment that forms the foundation of effective discipline.
“It is absolutely essential that a strong bond and healthy attachment is developed early in life,” Bryan says. “This basic building block of trust sets the stage for logical consequences to be effective, as well as for the child to develop an inner voice that guides them to make healthy choices and decisions. Loving actions that set limits early in life set the stage for an easier toddlerhood and childhood.”
Natural consequences are simple and effective teaching tools. If a child doesn’t remember her rain jacket for school, she gets wet at recess. But there are times when natural consequences are less valuable, either because the natural consequence isn’t important to the child, or when the natural result of a child’s choice negatively impacts his health or safety. For example, when a child repeatedly forgets his retainer on his lunch tray, the natural consequence is that he goes without his retainer, which likely is unacceptable to his parents and his orthodontist, but maybe not so much to him.
When natural consequences aren’t enough to guide good decisions, it’s time to consider logical consequences. Like natural consequences, logical consequences should be clearly connected to the behavior, says certified ADHD and parenting coach Caroline Maguire, author of “Why Will No One Play With Me? Coaching Your Child From Social Challenge to Success.”
Using the retainer example, a parent might ask the child to help choose a way to earn part of the money to pay for a new retainer, or the child might have to miss an after-school activity to search through the cafeteria. Taking away screen time as a punishment isn’t a logical consequence because it’s not connected to the child’s actions, making it less memorable and less effective as a teaching tool.
All the Feels
Effective discipline during the teen years may require caregivers to pause and cool down if they’re clashing with their child. Delivering a knee-jerk consequence like grounding is likely less effective than a well-chosen logical consequence connected to the teen’s poor choice.
The key to encouraging social, emotional and moral growth during the teenage years is using consequences that teach rather than punish. Logical consequences do this by ensuring that the teen experiences — and feels — the results of his or her actions.
“If the older child or teenager does not earn money for a video game, the logical consequence is that they cannot buy the game, not that the parent steps in and buys it anyway,” Maguire says. “The link between the feeling of disappointment and the actions is what results in learning from the mistake.”
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom.