Logical Consequences

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Logical consequences are different from Natural Consequences in that they require the intervention of an adult—or other children in a family meeting or a class meeting. It is important to decide what kind of consequence would create a helpful learning experience that might encourage children to choose responsible cooperation.

For example, Linda liked to tap her pencil while doing deskwork. This disturbed the other children. Her teacher gave her the choice to stop tapping or to give up her pencil and complete the work later. (It is usually a good idea to give children a choice either to stop their misbehavior or to experience a logical consequence.) Of course there are other solutions. Often a child is not aware that his or her behavior is disturbing others. The teacher could simply ask Linda to please stop tapping her pencil. Or the teacher could work out a solution with Linda, or they could agree to ask the class for help during a class meeting. If a consequence feels even close to punishment, choose another Positive Discipline tool.

Dan brought a toy car to school. His teacher called him aside and asked him if he would like to leave it with her or with the principal until after school. Dan chose to leave it with his teacher. (It is a good idea to speak to children about a consequence in private, when possible, so they don’t lose face with their peers.)

Giving children a choice and speaking to them in private about the consequences are not the only guidelines for effectively applying logical consequences. If this were so, it would be reasonable to give a child a choice either to stop his misbehavior or to have a spanking. The Three Rs and an H for Logical Consequences is a formula that identifies the criteria to help ensure that logical consequences are solutions, rather than punishment.

The Three Rs and an H of Logical Consequences

  1. Related

  2. Respectful

  3. Reasonable
  4. Helpful

Related means the consequence must be related to the behavior. Respectful means the consequence must not involve blame, shame or pain; and should be kindly and firmly enforced. It is also respectful to everyone involved. Reasonable means the consequence is reasonable from the child’s point of view as well as the adult’s. Helpful means just that—it helps rather than hurts. If any of the Three Rs and an H are missing, it can no longer be called a logical consequence. These could also be called the Three Rs and an H for Focusing on Solutions.

When a child writes on a desk, it is easy to conclude that the related consequence would be to have the child clean up the desk. But what happens if any of the other four Rs is missing?

If a teacher is not respectful and adds humiliation to his request that the desk be cleaned, it is no longer a logical consequence. Mr. Martin thought he was using a logical consequence, but then said to Mary in front of the whole class, "Mary, I’m surprised that you would do such a thing. Now clean up that desk or I’ll have to call your parents." In this example, respect has been eliminated and the teacher did some piggy backing with humiliation and a threat. 

If a teacher is not reasonable and requests that a student clean every desk in the room to make sure she has learned her lesson, it is no longer a logical consequence. Reasonableness has been eliminated in favor of the power to insure suffering. This is usually because of the mistaken belief that children learn only if they suffer.

If the consequence is not helpful it is easier to be construed as punishment. When both parties agree that the consequence would be helpful, it is more likely to encourage change.

When a child spills milk, the related consequence is to have him clean up the spill. It is not respectful if you say, "How can you be so clumsy? That is the last time I’ll let you pour milk." A more respectful comment would be, "Whoops. What do you need to do now?" (It is amazing how often the child knows what a solution would be, and how willing he is to do it, when asked respectfully.) If the child doesn’t know what to do, it could be because you haven’t taken time for training—thus making your expectation or request unreasonable. Handling it respectfully also demonstrates that mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. It would not be reasonable to ensure that he suffers for his mistake by saying, "To make sure you learn, I want you to scrub the whole floor."

Actually, if adults eliminate one of the Four Rs so that consequences are not related, respectful, reasonable, and helpful, children may experience the Four Rs of Punishment.

  1. Resentment ("This is unfair. I can’t trust adults.")
  2. Revenge ("They are winning now, but I’ll get even.")
  3. Rebellion ("I’ll show them that I can do whatever I want:
  4. Retreat, in the form of sneakiness ("I won’t get caught next time.") or reduced self esteem ("I am a bad person.")

Parents and teachers don’t like to admit that, often, the main reason they like to use punishment is to demonstrate their power to win over the child or to gain revenge by making the child suffer. The subconscious thinking behind this idea is, I am the adult and you are the child. You will do what I say—or else you will pay.

This concept was depicted in a cartoon showing a mother watching her husband chase their child with a stick. In the caption the mother is calling, "Wait! Give him another chance." The father replies, "But he might not ever do it again." Obviously, it is more important for this father to make the child suffer for his misbehavior than to help him change it.

Suffering is not a requirement of logical consequences. For example, a child might enjoy cleaning up his desk. (This is fine, since the purpose of a logical consequence is to change the misbehavior and find a solution, not to get revenge by causing suffering.)

Logical consequences are not the best way to handle most problems. Many parents and teachers get so excited about logical consequences that they try to find a consequence for every misbehavior. I don’t know how many times I have heard people ask, "What would a logical consequence be for this situation?" I tell them, "If a related logical consequence isn’t obvious, then it is probably not appropriate to use a logical consequence in this situation." There are other methods that might be more effective, such as holding a family meeting, focusing on solutions instead of consequences, creating routines, offering limited choices, asking for help, dealing with the belief behind the behavior, deciding what you will do instead of what you will make your child do, following through with dignity and respect, hugging, or another Positive Discipline tool that seems appropriate for the situation.