Consequences: Natural VS Logical

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I think the most powerful discipline tool you have as a parent is consequences. If X, then Y. It sounds simple enough, right? Well, we all know raising children isn’t ever that simple, so let’s try to elaborate. There are two types of consequences:

Natural consequences are something that happens naturally when you do something. Maybe your child is bugging the cat over and over even after being told not to and the cat scratches him. The pain from the scratch is the natural consequence [kind of off topic here, but I once had a vet tell me to never scold the child for doing something to a dog, like hitting, in front of the dog if the dog retaliated. You don’t have to let the dog retalitate–I would address that. Also address your child, but not in front of the dog. Okay, back to the topic at hand]. Natural consequences are pretty easy because you don’t have to do anything. They naturally happen.

Here is the fuzzy line of consequences. There are consequences that happen pretty automatically and can be considered natural, except they are controlled by people. Looking ahead, say your child was late for school because he wouldn’t get out of bed. The school docks his grade unless it is an excused tardy. You, the parent, have the power to offer the excuse. This is a situation when consequences get difficult. You want your child to have good grades. Think of the importance of the grades on his life! But you also don’t want to bail him out for being a slacker.

This is a situation I believe you have him accept the consequences for his actions. I am sure some will disagree, but I think most experts agree with me on this. I would have him take the grade hit. He didn’t get out of bed and he needs to face all of the consequences that brings wit it.

It is harder than you might think to allow your child to face consequences. Our world is gaining more and more people unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions. Nothing is ever their fault. Even something like running out of money in the checking account isn’t their fault. It must be someone else’s. The bank didn’t tell them. So-and-so took a long time to cash a check so they thought they had more money than they did. We are constantly looking for bail outs. Most of these people were raised by parents who felt bad for the child and removed these natural consequences in life.

I use logical consequences more than any other tool in disciplining. They work well for my brain; I am very logical. Don’t pick up your toys? Lose them. Can’t get along with your sibling? Then you don’t get to play with your sibling. Didn’t eat your dinner? Don’t expect an early breakfast. Did you turn on the TV without asking? I guess you lost TV for the week then. Did you mis-use a toy? Then you don’t get to play with it. Did you color on the table on purpose? No more coloring today.

I think logical consequences can sound harsh. The parent sounds compassion-less and strictly judgmental. I honestly see people in chat groups that say they don’t let their child experience consequences as they come. They shield them. They protect them. They are only children after all!

Low Stakes
I like the thought from the book Parenting With Love and Logic. The book says you need to teach consequences while the stakes are low. So your 2 year old is absolutely devastated that she can’t color any more today (yes, real life example from two days ago). She has the perfect little sad face and the tears fall just right. Her big eyes are brimming. Her lip pouts. She hugs you in despair.

You think, “oh, she is repentant. I am going to forgive her and give back these crayons.” How likely do you think she is going to be to color on that table again? Very. I would bet she colors on the table again that same night.

Let’s say instead you think, “Oh good. She is experiencing the pain of a consequence. From my perspective, losing crayons is not a big deal in her life. I am going to let her ride this out.” Perhaps by starting on this path now, you are better equipped to avoid her losing her license for traffic violations. She will not always be able to turn on the charm and cry her way out of situations in life. At some point, someone somewhere is going to call her out and force her to face the choice she made. If it isn’t you, it will be friends, school, bosses, law enforcement, the bank…someone will do it. It is an easier lesson to learn on crayons than on a mortgage.

But let’s take this up a level. I think most of you are desirous of more for your children than avoiding getting into financial or legal trouble. As Walter Williams recently put it, “Laws Are a Poor Substitute for common Decency, Moral Values.” Just because something is “legal” doesn’t make it right morally. We want to teach our children to understand that actions have consequences while they are young so they can learn to apply this understanding in their lives morally. Then they can be internally driven to do what is right rather than simply trying to stay within the bounds of the law.

Logical consequences are hard. They take consistency and resolve. They require that you listen to more crying and whining than you would otherwise. Keep the end goal in mind. You are the parent. It is your job to teach the effects of choices and consequences. Yours. The world will hand the consequences out. It is your job to prepare your child while the stakes are low. And in the end, you want your child choosing the right even if there are no obvious consequences attached to doing something wrong.

Another example of low stakes found in Love and Logic is the idea of getting hurt. They basically say (if I remember right) that you should allow your young toddler to get hurt while the stakes are low. Now, this doesn’t mean you hand her a knife or put her up at the top of the stairs and say “jump!” You still need to make her environment safe. But it means you don’t hover. You allow her to trip and fall. You allow her to go walk on the rocks and discover they are pokey.

My caveat with this idea is I think you first need to educate the child, and you also need to allow things age appropriately. You tell your child the rocks are pokey and it will hurt her feet to walk on them–and this is assuming she is old enough to understand. You don’t put your toddling 12 month old down on the ground and tell her to avoid the rocks.

Their point here was that sometime, this child is going to take a physical risk. It will be best if he did it while the stakes were low. He can understand what pain feels like and that he isn’t superman after all in a low-stakes situation. If he goes through his toddler years being protected from every fall, then as his physical abilities improve, and therefore his ability to take higher risks improve, he has a greater chance of getting hurt, and hurt seriously. You can’t hover forever. Someday, he will be somewhere without you.

I remember this thought being powerful to me with Brayden. I was the hovering mom trying to make sure he never felt pain. I caught him before he hit the floor. I finally let go and allowed him to do age-appropriate things where he might get hurt. With Kaitlyn, I was awesome at this from the beginning. I have been the same. To this day, Brayden handles physical pain with the least amount of dignity than all my kids :).

Remember Context
While applying logical consequences, remember context. When your child is sick, teething, tired, or hungry, have extra patience for your child. Logical consequences are a just action. As the parent, you need to be sure you apply mercy here, also. Use your best judgment to know how much to ignore during these tired and sore times for your child.

Don’t underestimate the power of consequences. I really think if you can apply and allow consequences appropriately, you don’t have to do much else in the form of correction. While I don’t love everything in Love and Logic, I think it is great for getting you in the mindset of applying logical consequences. In fact, I should probably read it again. It has been a few years. There is also some discussion of consequences in On Becoming Preschool Wise.


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Janelle
    February 22, 2010 / 8:37 PM

    I really like this idea of logical consequences but I'm having a hard time coming up with a logical consequence of running away when it's time to do something. My son loves to play "chase" and I spend at least half an hour a day chasing him in the yard, or around his crib, or around the kitchen table. I make it very clear that we are playing a game. He usually starts it by saying "chase me mama!" and then I respond by saying "I'm gonna get you" in a playful tone. But when it's time to get ready for dinner, or to go to the store, or to get ready for bed, he runs away as well. I tell him it's not a game and we're not playing chase but he continues to try to evade me. What would be a good logical consequence for this? If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. My son is almost 2 (his b-day is in March) and can understand and communicate very well. So I know he knows what I'm saying when I tell him it's not a game!

  2. Plowmanators
    February 22, 2010 / 8:51 PM

    Janelle, if it were me in that situation, I would pick him up and carry him if he ran. I know around that age my two older kids HATED to be carried…they wanted to "do it themselves"…so if they did something like that, I would just carry them.

  3. ys
    February 23, 2010 / 2:06 AM

    Great & timely post! I've really been thinking about this a LOT this past week. I too think logical consequences can be the most effective but often have trouble coming up with an appropriate consequence on the spot for an item. I requested the Love & Logic book from the library and hope they have some examples. Do they have specific examples? I know you've listed a few and the wise books list a few, but obviously there are a lot in everyday life. My just turned 3 YO is testing me a lot now and just doing things on purpose (clearly hearing and understanding me) that I told her not to do. I am not sure if this is an age thing as it really seemed that this "testing" has picked up a lot as she just turned 3. Anyways I am rereading Childwise and really thinking hard about this. She is treating it all as a big game and not treating anything seriously. I have been requiring the Yes Mom and know that after that if she doesn't listen I have to employ something. Anyways I guess I just need help being more creative:)

  4. fickchantellelee
    February 23, 2010 / 9:24 AM

    Wow! Good post! My Lo is 18months at the moment and she is already testing my consistency! I battled for a week with her ignoring me, and then I tried time out which did not work and eventually I told her I'm going to take away her Teddy if she doesn't listen [She did not want to lie down in her crib for her nap] she then again did not listen so I took away her Teddy and she cried awhile before falling asleep, and the previous day she did not want to stay in her room for room time so when she woke up I told her she could have her teddy back when she playe nicely in her room until the timer goes off!! It worked!! After the timer went off she immediately showed me the way to the teddy and I gave it to her… Its amazing how well they understand!! And when you get to know their personality you accomplish a lot!! I thought I was being to harsh on her but according to this blog I'm not…. Thank you 🙂 For making me feel better amd proud of myself!!

  5. Nicolette
    February 23, 2010 / 3:02 PM

    Hi, I follow your blog through Google reader. I'm a first time Mom and this blog has been a life saver at times. Thank you so much.

  6. Nicolette
    February 23, 2010 / 3:05 PM

    Hi if i win I will be ordering the Mint Pink Paisley/Soft Pink w/White Satin Sheety blanket for my daughter it will match her room perfectly.

  7. Nicolette
    February 23, 2010 / 3:07 PM

    If I win I will have the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star printed on the because I sing that song to my daughter before every nap and at bedtime.

  8. Nicolette
    February 23, 2010 / 3:09 PM

    I now follow this blog on facebook.

  9. Plowmanators
    February 23, 2010 / 3:11 PM

    Nicolette,you need to put your entry comments on the blanket giveaway post. I don't know if you realized you are putting them on the consequences post 🙂

  10. Ben & Jenny
    February 23, 2010 / 3:50 PM

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. I love your opening paragraph under logical consequences. Very straight-forward and I can see the line of thinking. I'm definitely improving in this. My hang up with logical consequences has been when when the consequence might lead to another problem. For example, if I take away his toys (not A toy)for the morning, I'm not going to let DS wander the house. That's just asking for trouble. So it means I need to have something else for him to do in place of the time he would have been playing with the toys, you know?Thanks for the great post!

  11. Michael and Natalie
    February 23, 2010 / 4:16 PM

    I agree wholeheartedly. I listened to a talk recently regarding people's general lack of moral compasses. The speaker stated that even if we keep making laws, people will continue to find their way around them, because what they need to have is just an inner moral compass to guide their actions because that will ultimately be the only thing making people make good decisions. You appear to have just the same amount of patience with the adults around us who flat out REFUSE to take responsibility for their own actions. I find myself using these standards not only on my daughter but on my husband and on myself as well. Even when I've gotten issued a driving citation, I usually agree with the police officer (not to his face 🙂 that I deserved the ticket. My mom always gets upset with the officer, and I say, "YOU were breaking the law and you know it!"As far as your tardy example goes, I recall a handful of times as early as 7 years old that my mom would remind me to set my alarm the night before, and if I slept in she wouldn't wake me for school and never, ever write me a note. At my school we not only had to suffer a docked grade, but also had detention during lunch and recess. I remember so very clearly how my blood boiled when I knew my mother was awake and could've woken me up but did not. When I would tell my friends at school they were so surprised that she wouldn't wake me up. I resented her at the time immensely. But now as an adult, I fully take responsibility for my own actions. I would say it is one of the aspects of my person that I am the most proud of. Stick with the logical consequences because it really helps kids understand the real world.

  12. heidi
    February 23, 2010 / 9:12 PM

    i'm happy to have found this blog–i have 3 little boys (all BWed). you have a great variety of help and i know i need it for my 10 week old but even for my 2 and 5–looking at this post! thanks.

  13. Summer
    February 25, 2010 / 2:53 AM

    thank you for this blog, i appreciate the time you put into these!

  14. Amber
    February 26, 2010 / 12:21 AM

    My cousin introduced me to your blog while I was pregnant, and it has been very refreshing to follow. I've thoroughly enjoy it! My baby boy is 11 weeks now, and I also have a 4 1/2 year old boy and an almost 3 year old girl. I liked this post because I am also very logical in my consequences. But what I am having a hard time with is that the consequences don't seem to make much of an impression because within a few minutes it seems like they are doing the same thing that they just got in trouble for. Do you find yourself saying the exact same things over and over? Sometimes I feel like nothing I am saying is sinking in with them. Any suggestions for making this process less frustrating? On a different note, my two oldest children are from my husband's first marriage. Their mother past away, and my husband and I have been married for almost 2 years. I know you are in contact with many moms. Have you met anyone with a similar situation? Sometimes I feel very alone in the experiences I have as a step-mom and now as a first-time mom. Thank you for your posts.

  15. Plowmanators
    March 9, 2010 / 11:31 PM

    YS, Love and Logic has lots of examples. Many of them are way beyond the age of a toddler. They also have a book for toddler age, which I intend to buy soon, so I don't know what it is like. I think the book is valuable just to get you in the right frame of mind of how to apply consequences.

  16. Plowmanators
    March 9, 2010 / 11:32 PM

    You are welcome to everyone! It is fun to read your stories.

  17. Plowmanators
    March 10, 2010 / 10:27 PM

    Ben & Jenny,I wouldn't take every toy away–just the one(s) being abused. Or if the toy had nothing to do with why it was taken away, just the one(s) that mean the most to him because it will cause him to take notice the most.I get what you are saying. When I take away TV or nintendo from Brayden, it always means more work for me 🙂 We usually do extra learning activities or I have him help more with chores (he likes to do that).

  18. Plowmanators
    March 10, 2010 / 10:29 PM

    Excellent thoughts Natalie. I recently read the same talk 🙂

  19. Plowmanators
    March 10, 2010 / 10:33 PM

    Amber, to an extent, there will be a lot of repeating yourself.However, if you aren't seeing improvement (repeating yourself less often 🙂 ), then what you are doing probably isn't the best option.Try either changing what the logical consequence is, or try something else all together.So far as the family set up, I can't think of anyone specifically in that situation in any BW groups. However, there are a lot of people in both the Babycenter Babywise group and the Chronicles Yahoo Group. I would try posting a message asking that in one or both groups and see if there is someone in that situation.

  20. melissa
    September 1, 2010 / 12:18 PM

    how would you handle a 2.25 hitting a 10-month old sibling? I am beyond frustration with this.

  21. Plowmanators
    September 13, 2010 / 10:17 PM

    Melissa, see the blog label "hitting" for a post on the topic. In short, I would probably immediately take the 2 year old away from the baby and put him in time out. No nonsense. I would then tell him for the rest of the playtime or even day, "I am sorry. You aren't allowed to play with baby today. You weren't kind." I would also spend time teaching him how to appropriately express physical love if that is what he is going for. I know Kaitlyn can be rough when she wants to express love.If it is out of anger (like a "don't steal my toy" thing), I would also remove whatever he was so angry about. If he hit over a toy, I would take the toy away. Be no nonsense, but don't get angry. Anger from a parent doesn't help the child learn from the situation.

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