“Logical consequences” is a phrase I hear used a lot. It is often used inaccurately to describe a punishment disguised as a “consequence”. It is also often confused with “natural consequences”, which are the consequences that naturally occur with no intervention from an adult. For example, the natural consequence of being too rough with a toy and breaking the toy is that the toy is broken and may not work anymore. A logical consequence is an imposed consequence given by an adult that is related to the behavior. For breaking the toy, a logical consequence might be that the child must earn money to buy a new toy or that the child will not be allowed to play with breakable toys.

But what makes a consequence a logical consequence rather than a punishment?

A logical consequence must be:

  1. Related to the misbehavior. Removing TV time or timeout for breaking a toy is not related to the behavior, while removing breakable toys is directly related.
  2. Respectful. Shaming or or belittling your child is not respectful. A logical consequence should be given calmly and respectfully, not used as a threat, an “I told you so” moment or given in anger. That is the quickest way to turn a consequence into a punishment. Tone of voice is important here. There is a difference between shouting, “I’m putting up your toys because you can’t seem to take care of them!” and calmly explaining that since the child is having trouble playing gently with the toys at this time, you will be putting up those particular toys for today and giving another chance tomorrow.
  3. Reasonable. Any consequence should be in proportion to the misbehavior. Using the breaking toys example, putting up breakable toys up for a day and giving the child another chance the next day might be reasonable, while throwing out toys or completely removing all toys from a child’s room is out of proportion and unreasonable. If asking them to do something, it must be something they can reasonably do. A child may be asked to clean up a mess he made, but not to clean the whole house, for example.
  4. Helpful. The consequence should help the child to learn responsible behavior and independence. Ask yourself, “What is the child learning from this?” To use the toy example, any consequence given should be with the intent to help teach the child to care for his or her toys appropriately.

Like all parenting tools I teach, consequences are best used in combination with other positive discipline tools. Make sure you aren’t solely relying on consequences, but are also teaching your child what to do, giving choices, validating feelings, and making agreements in advance.