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Logical Consequences: What, how and why.

Discipline is a very complex concept. What is the ‘right’ way to discipline your child. What does discipline actually entail? Is discipline different from punishment?

The goal of punishment is usually to enforce compliance with the rules by using external control or authoritarian discipline. While it may be effective in stopping the misbehavior in that moment, punishment does not lead to responsibility. Punishment often leads to feelings of anger, discouragement, resentment, embarrassment and often an increase in avoidance, deception, and evasion of consequences. In other words, avoiding the behavior to avoid the punishment rather than understanding the consequences of said behavior. Punishment is also driven by our own frustration, emotions and lack of control. This can be shown in our body language and tone of voice and is likely to feed into a child’s anxiety, fear and shame.

By comparison, Logical Consequences help children to develop internal understanding, self-control and a willingness to follow the rules. It guides children to examine their own behavior and consider the results of their choices. The intention is not to shame but rather to help develop intrinsic control and motivation; to learn from mistakes in a supportive and constructive manner. Logical Consequences can be described as a ‘punishment’ that fits the crime; it is directly linked to the behavior itself. Logical consequences allow us to be in control in a calm and non-threatening way. It allows the adult to remain connected to the child.

www.responsiveclassroom.org provide a wonderful overview of the difference between punishment and logical consequences. In summary, logical consequences aim to maintain a child’s dignity whereas punishment often calls upon an element of shame. As author Brene Brown says; shame creates a belief of being flawed and unworthy of love and belonging. Something we’ve done or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. Shame is not helpful or productive and breaks down the connection between child and parent. Logical consequences give the message that the behavior was the problem not the child themselves.

For example, the situation is as follows. Jimmy is playing with his ball in the kitchen, even though he knows he shouldn’t. The ball knocks over a full jug of juice that is on the counter and it spills all over the kitchen floor.

A punishment for this behavior would be that Jimmy receives a spanking and is sent to his room for the remainder of the afternoon so that he is out of the way and not disruptive.

An example of a logical consequences would be that Jimmy is that Jimmy is to clean up the mess he has made by kicking the ball in the house. He also has to make a new batch of juice since it was for everyone to enjoy. Jimmy’s ball is then taken away for the remainder of the afternoon.

This method does not take the ‘guilt’ away from the behavior. The chances are that your child already feels bad about what they have done the minute it happens. Guilt can be helpful, it focuses on the behavior whereas shame focusses on the person themselves. Shame is “I am bad”, guilt is “I did something bad” -Brene Brown. Guilt allows us to apologize for our mistake where as shame makes us feel that we are the mistake. It is vital to teach our children the difference between the two from early on in childhood.

Early in childhood children begin discovering things and exploring their skills and talents. Mistakes are bound to happen as they try to pour things, carry things, climb things, make things. Psychological Theorist Erik Erikson states that it is critical for parents to allow their children to explore the limits of their environment with encouragement and tolerance of failure. We want our child to learn to pour their own cereal without spilling, not to become afraid or avoidant of doing it all by instilling shame and doubt. Logical consequences is a wonderful strategy to help foster autonomy, independence and responsibility at any age.


What is the best form of punishment or consequence? What is the difference between punishment and consequence and how do we know which one we are using? I believe it is about what we are focusing on as opposed to what form of discipline we are using. When the focus, ours or theirs, is on what they have done wrong, whatever we do will feel like punishment and that is when discipline is ineffective and doesn’t create lasting change. The focus needs to be on the learning from the “misbehavior”.

As parents we need to get clarity on what we want to teach them in each situation. What is the lesson? And focus our words on the lesson. We also need to separate their behavior from who they are (i.e. we are not making them wrong) so that it does not become personal. As soon as they feel “wrong” or it is personal, emotions get in the way of the learning. When we have a need to make them wrong or we are upset, that is about our hurt and not their behavior and we need to look at that separately from the way we discipline. If we discipline from our hurt, we may feel better in that moment, but it will not result in long-term satisfaction.

For example: If they go out without your permission.

Our anger: They disobeyed me, I don’t trust them, they are… etc. It hurts when they disobey us! We are usually doing what we feel is best. It doesn’t mean that what we feel or decide is wrong; it just means we need a different strategy to get our point across.

When we speak from our anger the lesson gets lost and it becomes personal. We need to ask ourselves: What can we put in place so that there is no need for them to disobey us? How can I communicate differently? Who is in power? Am I too powerful or am I too soft?

The Lesson: Going out to ….. is not safe because…. The focus needs to be on how they can stay safe. The discussion is about how they can keep themselves safe, what they will get from going, will that really meet their need, how can they meet their need in another way, what needs to be in place for them to go safely?

The Consequence: Ideally where possible make the consequence directly related to the misbehavior. For example, I left my sports bag at home, they go without it. They are late coming out of school, you leave without them. When we have resistance to do this, that is about our need and we need to find a way to meet our need and still carry out the consequence. In situations where there can’t be a natural consequence, the question to ask is what is your teenager’s currency? This will differ from teenager to teenager, for some it is their phone, others time with friends, others TV. What will they miss most? Try different options and see which one is most effective. Ask them to set their own consequence. When determining the length of time or the severity of the consequence, make sure:

  • you can follow through every time

  • they have clarity on the length of time

  • the consequence is not a result of your anger or hurt

  • Is it appropriate for the misbehavior

  • The focus still needs to be on the lesson and not the consequence

Discipline is not comfortable, and there is usually conflict. Conflict is necessary for the learning process, if we as parents base our success on how they are learning rather than their reaction to the discipline it will be easier to face the conflict. Our long term goal is developing accountability in them.