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 people might yell at you or tell you to be quiet (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, but in many cases we learn as we go.
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 logical consequences are needed to help a child take accountability for their behavior.
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 your child 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 and say: you need to keep your hands to yourself for X amount of time if you want to earn the time to do _________ (insert activity that your child enjoys) today.
Privileges do not come free. There are certain expectations that we all need to follow to get to do the things we enjoy.
It is very easy and effective to state logical consequences in the positive. Such as, we need to clean the desk first and then you can join the art activity (after the student draws all over the desk). 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 the child is 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).
Why and How Should We Use Logical Consequences?
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 (e.g., if you break something you need to fix it or earn the money to get it fixed or replace it, if you steal something you need to return it in person to its original owner).
It is easy to stay calm when implementing these consequences 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.
How to Teach and Reinforce Replacement Behaviors
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 during the movie! Keep up the good work!”
Additional Infomation About Natural and Logical Consequences
Over the past 20 years, working with individuals with behavioral challenges and now with my own 7-year-old son, I consistently see the effectiveness of 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.
Over the past 20 years, working with individuals with behavioral challenges, and now having my own children, I consistently see the effectiveness of natural and logical consequences and the benefits of phrasing them in the positive, so the natural consequences of making good choices become something the child is working towards.
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 have a goal to work towards, 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 overnight.
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Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”