What are Natural Consequences?
Natural consequences are consequences that occur naturally as the result of a behavior. For instance, if you were talking and being loud in the movie theater you might be asked to leave (so other people can hear the movie). If you are hitting your friends, they probably won’t want to play with you (because it hurts). It is helpful for kids to know expectations ahead of time, of course in many cases we learn as we go. I have repeatedly seen the benefit of discussing these potential consequences (and implementing them if need be) using positive phrasing such as “you need to be quiet or whisper in the theater if you want to stay” or “you need to keep your hands to yourself if you want to keep playing with your friends.” Some natural consequences work all on their own. For instance, when I was five I touched an iron and burned my finger. That was a natural consequence and I never did it again. Sometimes natural and logical consequences overlap.
What are Logical Consequences?
Logical consequences are those imposed by teachers, parents or other authority figures and they fit the behavior in a logical way (hence the name). For instance, if a student draws on the desk a logical consequence would be to tell him that he needs to clean it off before joining the fun art project (or even before going home). If your child hits you when angry, a logical consequence would be to tell her to keep her hands to herself and move away from her/block yourself until she is calm (even if that means removing her to a safe area where she can’t hurt anyone). Once she is calm and can talk rationally, empathize with what made her angry but also let her know how it made you feel to be hit, that hitting is not tolerated under any circumstances because it hurts, and then discuss alternatives for what she should do next time she is angry, rather than hitting (this can be done through discussion, drawings, pictures, etc). You may even wish to have her role play the scenario over and practice the new strategy. This consequence should be a requirement before she moves on to an activity of her choice. Be consistent and implement consequences the same way each time. If hitting is a major problem you could even step it up a notch-you need to keep your hands to yourself for X amount of time if you want to earn the freedom to do _________ (insert activity that your child enjoys) today. Freedom is a privilege. It does not come free. There are certain expectations that we all need to follow to get to do the things we enjoy.
Just like natural consequences, it is very easy to state logical consequences in the positive as well. Such as, we need to clean the desk first and then you can join the art activity. Or first we need to work together to come up with alternative strategies, and then you can move on to your desired activity, because hitting is never allowed. If they are not ready, wait it out. They want to do the things they enjoy, but they must take the imposed consequence first (first you must do this/then you can do that).
Since natural and logical consequences make sense, they lead to less resistance and reduce the power struggle. You can set the expectations ahead of time and implement the consequences when needed. It is easy to stay calm because you know you are doing the right thing. You do not need to yell and scream, but you also do not need to budge from your position. Also, when your child is calm and in a good mood. it is a great time to talk about replacement behaviors and the purpose of rules (e.g., what should we do if we want to talk in a theater, what should we do it we feel angry, what are acceptable things to draw on, what are the things we are allowed to use our hands for, what is the purpose of these rules, why do we have rules, etc.). When you see your child implementing those replacement behaviors give them positive feedback! “You sat so quietly through the movie! Keep up the good work!”
Over the past 18 years, working with individuals with behavioral challenges and now with my own two-year-old son, I consistently see the effectiveness of implementing natural and logical consequences and phrasing them in the positive, so they become something that the child is working towards rather than something that is being taken away. No one responds well to threats, especially when they don’t feel they are in the wrong (which is often the case when people are told they did something wrong). When you try to use power and threats to change behavior, you often get resistance because the child wants to feel in control, which is natural. When they can earn things and when they feel they are learning practical skills, they are more likely to feel in control.
No one is perfect and you may not be able to think of the natural or logical consequence in every single scenario but try your best to do so. These consequences are practical and apply to real life. For instance, if you go to work, follow directions, and work hard you will earn your paycheck. If you pay your bills you can keep your car, your house, etc. If you keep your hands to yourself and only take other people’s belongings when you have permission, you will stay out of jail. Keep in mind terms like “first this, then that” rather than “if you don’t do this you can’t do that.” What scenarios can you think of in which you can use natural and logical consequences to shape and guide behavior?
Using natural and logical consequences is not something that anyone has to do. You can continue to use regular punishment like timeouts, yelling, and taking away privileges, or reward systems like sticker charts, but if you continue to feel frustrated and don’t see a change, it is your best bet to try to implement these strategies as much as possible. As a behavior specialist, school psychologist, and mother, I personally endorse them as being the most effective based on my own experiences and research. They may take time to take effect. Be consistent, stick to your guns, and don’t expect change over night.
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them.