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Issuing Consequences 101: Tips for Parents of Defiant Kids & Teens

A consequence is a result of something a child does. Letting kids experience the natural or logical consequences of their actions is one way to teach responsibility. A natural consequence means what happens because of something a youngster does. A logical consequence is a result arranged by the mother/father but logically related to what the youngster did. Natural and logical consequences result from choices kids make about their behavior. In effect, they choose the consequence they experience.

Sometimes the consequence which naturally or logically follows the youngster's behavior is unpleasant. By allowing kids to experience the pleasant or unpleasant consequence of their behavior, moms and dads and caregivers help kids learn what happens because of the behavior choices they made. Using consequences can be an effective discipline tool with kids three years old and older.

Natural Consequences: These are the inevitable result of a youngster's own actions. For example, despite Dad's urging him to put on his coat, Jake goes outside when it's cold without wearing a coat. The natural result is that Jake gets cold. This result is a consequence of a choice Jake made. Natural consequences are: (a) the responsibility of the youngster and (b) not administered by the mother/father.

Logical Consequences: Logical consequences happen as a result of a youngster's action, but are imposed by the mother/father. For example, 4-year-old Kylie rides her bike into the street after she was told not to. The logical consequence for Kylie's mother to impose on Kylie is to take her bike away for the rest of the morning. Logical consequences are most useful when a youngster's action could result in harm. It is important to make sure that logical consequences are reasonable and related to the problem, and to let both the youngster and the mother/father keep their self-respect.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Use Logical and Natural Consequences—

1. Identify reasons: When your youngster misbehaves, find out what he/she is doing and try to figure out why. Kids usually misbehave for these reasons: (a) because they feel inadequate, (b) to get even, (c) to get power, and (d) to get your attention.

It's important to try to understand why the youngster is misbehaving so you can take the correct action.

Michael, age 5, was playing in the yard. It was almost time to go to preschool. Mom called to Michael that he had five minutes to finish playing. Michael kept on playing because he was having fun. “One minute left,” warned Mom. His toys were still all over the yard and it was time to go.

Paying no attention to his Mother is a great way for Michael to gain power and get attention.

2. Decide whose problem it is: Some problems are the youngster's alone. When this is the case, it's often best simply to let whatever will happen, happen. As long as the consequences are not dangerous, don't interfere. This is a natural consequence. For example, if Michael were playing out in the yard when it began to rain and he would not come in, he would get wet. The natural consequence would be the discomfort of being drenched. When Michael will not put his toys away, his mother has the problem. Mom really needs Michael to put his trucks away before going to preschool. They live in an apartment complex where there are many other kids and the toys might not be there when they return. Mom has been working to help Michael be more responsible for his toys. In this case it's time to use a logical consequence.

3. Offer choices: When you want your youngster to do something or behave in a certain way, the best way is to offer a few choices. Make sure any choice you offer is one you can live with and does not harm the youngster.

“Michael, I need you to pick up the toys right now. If you don't they will have to be put away until tomorrow. I know you will want to play truck when we come home. That won't be possible unless you put them back in the house now. It's your choice.”

It's important to keep in mind that a logical consequence comes from the youngster's decision.

4. Stand firm: If the youngster chooses a consequence, follow through and don't waver. This is very important when you begin using this technique. A youngster used to getting his/her way through misbehavior may try to do the same thing as Michael thing when choosing a logical consequence.

Michael looked at Mom and continued playing. Mom said “All right, I can see you have decided not to play with your truck this afternoon.” Mom then removed the truck and put it in an out-of-reach place that Michael could see. Michael began to cry and throw dirt. Mom remained calm (it was not easy to do) and simply reminded Michael that he had made a choice.

5. Talk to your youngster about choices in a positive way: A choice given as a way to get something is far more appealing to a youngster than a warning. The actual consequence is probably the same, but a power struggle is avoided because the mother/father is positive rather than threatening.

Michael's Mom might want to rephrase her words. She might have better luck if she said, “Michael, I want you to be able to play with your truck later. Let's bring it into the house right now so you can play with it when we come home from preschool. I know you really like this truck, but if we leave it out here, it might disappear like the blue one did.”

6. Let your youngster know when she or he has done something good: As soon as a youngster corrects his behavior, let him know you think it's great. All of us respond better to praise than to criticism. Sometimes it's the only way a youngster knows he has met your expectations.

Two days later Michael was playing truck again. Now, Mom needed to go to the store and asked Michael to put the truck in the house. He ignored her for a minute, but when Mom reminded him that he was responsible for making sure the truck didn't disappear (either because he left it in the yard or because Mom put it away for a brief period of time) he picked it up and walked toward the door. Mom said, “Wow, I really like the way you're taking care of your truck. I'm proud of you!”

7. If possible, let the youngster help decide the consequence: Because the problem is the youngster's and she is in charge of the choices she makes, it's a good idea to ask her what she thinks a good consequence might be. This makes it more likely that the youngster will do what you ask. And if she chooses not to do it, she was part of the team that decided what the consequence would be.

Michael and Mom were talking about what might happen if he didn't bring in the truck. Michael understood the reason for needing to keep track of his toys and said that it might be taken away by another youngster if it were left out. Mom talked about how it would be hard to buy Michael another truck right now because trucks cost a lot of money. Michael said that if the truck disappeared, he might be able to help buy a new one with some of the money he got for his birthday. They both agreed that the best solution was to bring the truck in whenever Michael wasn't playing with it.

Kids can often come up with better consequences than their moms and dads when given the chance.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Guidelines for Using Logical Consequences—

Logical consequences are arranged by an adult but must be experienced by the youngster as a direct result of his/her behavior. To be effective, the consequence needs to fit the behavior in a logical way so that the youngster associates the consequence with the behavior choice.

1. Logical consequences acknowledge mutual rights and mutual respect.

Mother (TV is blaring): “Kayla, I realize you and Dana are enjoying your program, but your dad and I are trying to talk. Please turn down the volume or go outside. You decide which you'd rather do.”

In contrast, discipline expresses the power of personal authority.

Mother: “Kayla, turn that TV off this instant! I'm trying to talk to your father.”

2. Logical consequences are related to the misbehavior.

Father: “Richard, I'm going to mow the lawn this morning, but I won't be able to mow until all your toys are picked up. Please pick them up. If you don't, I'll place them in a bag and put them out of reach in the garage.”

In contrast, discipline is rarely related to the logic of the misbehavior or situation.

Father (mad): “Richard, I've told you a dozen times to pick up your toys outside. I'm going to mow over them and you can just forget about going to the show this afternoon, too.”

3. Logical consequences are not judgmental.

Son: “Dad, remember when I borrowed your pen without asking?”
Dad: “Yes, I do.”
Son: “Well, I lost it. I've looked everywhere for it.”
Dad: “Well, son, how are you going to replace the pen?”

In this example, Dad handled the situation by focusing on the impersonal fact that a pen was lost and must be replaced. In contrast, discipline implies wrong-doing and personal deficiencies, rather than a mistake or inappropriate behavior.

Dad (very angry): “Son, you took my pen without permission! Don't you know enough to ask? That's outright stealing. And you lost it. You'll never use anything else of mine again!”

4. Logical consequences are related to current and future behavior.

The Johnson family recently got a dog. Little John agreed to feed it, but did not live up to his agreement. John is playing with the dog.

Father: “I'm sorry, John, but you're not ready for the responsibility of caring for a dog. You'll have to leave the dog alone for two days. Then you can take on your responsibility for feeding the dog again.”

In contrast, discipline relates to past behavior.

Father (angrily): “John, you forgot to feed the dog. You don't care one bit about that poor animal. It's just like you to forget. You can't ever play with the dog again.”

5. Logical consequences are done in a firm but kind manner with a pleasant, friendly voice.

James and Robert are kicking each other under the table.

Mother: “You boys may either settle down and eat your breakfast or leave the table until you're ready to join us!”

In contrast, discipline often is threatening and treats the offender with disrespect.

Mother (angrily): “You two knock it off right now or you'll go to school without any breakfast!”

6. Logical consequences give the youngster a choice.

Tina has just come home from school and wants to play outside.

Mother: “Tina, if you plan to play outside, you'll need to change into your play clothes.”

In contrast, discipline demands obedience.

Mother: “Tina, change your clothes right now!”

Sometimes there is a thin line between logical consequences and discipline. The tone of voice, friendly attitude, and willingness to accept the youngster's decision are essential characteristics of logical consequences. No matter how logical an action may seem to you, if your words are threatening, the message conveyed to the youngster will be one of discipline. Then, your youngster will be resentful and angry at you for imposing the consequence, instead of taking responsibility for his/her actions and learning from the consequence.

Advantages of Using Natural and Logical Consequences—
  • Because it separates the deed from the doer, it does not shame or punish the youngster.
  • It is concerned with present and future behavior and helps kids learn to be responsible for their own actions.
  • It is done in a calm environment.
  • It lets kids make a choice.
  • The consequence is closely tied to the behavior, and gives the youngster a chance to learn what happens when he doesn't behave in the way you expect him to behave.

Disadvantages of Using Natural and Logical Consequences—

It can sometimes be difficult for moms and dads to use natural and logical consequences because the mother/father must be able to think ahead and come up with a proper response.
  • The youngster must be allowed to experience the consequence.
  • The consequence takes time to put into action and often does not work the first time.
  • The mother/father must not step in and “save” the youngster.

==> Help for Parents with Out-of-Control Teens

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