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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

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Natural or Logical Consequences? They Help a Child Learn

If you’ve been reading up on how to help your young child learn to behave, you might’ve heard the terms “natural” or “logical “consequences. In fact, we covered this idea in the post Letting Your Child Learn Natural Consequences. We received lots of feedback that parents wanted more examples – so here are some you can try.

Natural consequences are unplanned results of a child’s actions that occur if a parent doesn’t intervene to prevent the outcome. If parents let this happen, kids can learn. Logical consequences are results of a child’s actions that fit closely to the behavior a parent is trying to correct.

Both methods work best if the child knows ahead of time how they’re expected to behave and what the consequences will be if they don’t.

Natural consequences

Sometimes you can just let a kid learn by leaving them to “suffer” the consequences of their choice. You don’t intervene. This allows your child to experience the downside of their behavior – though of course it’s not appropriate if the child will be hurt or they’ll hurt someone else by their behavior.

Here are some examples of how natural consequences work. If your child:

  • Has been told it’s time to eat dinner but they refuse to sit down and eat, the consequence can be that, after dinner is cleared, the kitchen is closed until tomorrow. No snacks after dinner – but there will be breakfast.
  • Wants to wear shorts to school on a chilly day – they’ll feel cold, but it won’t give them a cold.
  • Forgets their lunch again they’ll be hungry at school – but more likely to remember it tomorrow!
  • Can’t remember to pack their sports gear for a practice or game – they have to sit on the bench.
  • Forgets their homework – they’ll learn from the consequence of not having it. It’s better to learn that lesson in elementary school than in high school!
  • Remembers at the last minute they need to go to the store to get poster board for a school project, they’ll learn to be creative with what’s already in the house.
  • Spends too much time playing video games, so you pack up the console and put it away; they’ll learn not to ignore screen limits.

Logical consequences

These are methods you come up with to fit a given situation. If a child misbehaves and the punishment has nothing to do with the behavior, they don’t really learn much. Instead, if we tailor the consequence to what they did, they learn more.

For instance:

  • Your child knows they need to wear a helmet when riding their bike but you see them outside riding … with no helmet. The bike has a time-out for 30 minutes! If it happens again – the bike is put away for the day.
  • If a child is being too bouncy and silly at the table and knocks over their milk, they have to clean the mess up themselves.
  • If kids are fighting over a toy, the toy gets a time-out for 10 minutes while they figure out how to share – or move on to another activity.
  • If your child is shrieking in the library, even after they’ve been asked to use their inside voice and are reminded that children who yell inside can’t stay for story time, pick them up and leave.

Consequences don’t work unless parents enforce them. Children will test to see if you’re serious or not. If you don’t follow through on what you said would happen (such as take the toys away, or leave the store), your child learns you don’t mean what you say. It also helps to follow through without much discussion or “I told you not to’s.

The point of good discipline is to teach your child how to behave. If you don’t enforce the consequences, you deprive your child of the learning experience. So to make consequences work, follow these 3 steps:

  1. Be clear about your rules – wear helmets when you’re on something with wheels, remember to bring your own lunch, use indoor voice in the library.
  2. Be just as clear about what the consequences will be for not following the rules.
  3. Follow through.

Good luck!

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.