When compared to the term “punishment”, discipline seems like a flowery method to “talk” to our children about what they did “wrong”. That instead of taking anything away, or holding anything back, we simply hold our child’s hand and guide them through their behaviour to a perfect solution where the world is sunshine and rainbows.
The main difference between disciplining and punishing is that discipline is used to teach a lesson and punishment is used to instill fear.
The use of discipline is important, since we want to teach our children to independently make proper choices. We can do this by withholding desirable items or activities or taking them away. It’s HOW we administer these consequences that defines whether we are disciplining or punishing.
When it comes to discipline, the best consequences are ones that are natural or logical.
What are Natural and Logical Consequences?
Natural consequences are the inevitable results of a child’s own actions that occur naturally. Think of it as cause and effect:
Your little darling is refusing to wear their winter hat. You let them go without their hat. Their head gets cold.
Cause: No hat.
Effect: Cold head.
Nowhere in that situation did you have to step in and threaten or plead with your little one to wear their hat. A simple, “If you don’t wear your hat, your head will get cold” is all it takes.
Logical consequences are those that are imposed by parents but are reasonable and related to the behaviour. They are best used when the natural consequences of a child’s behaviour may cause damage or harm.
Your precious little munchkin is riding their bike but continually pedals out into the road when you’ve repeatedly told them not to. You take away their bike.
It wouldn’t make much sense to threaten your little one with no television but continue to let them ride their bike in this situation. The consequence fits perfectly with the undesired behaviour.
How do Natural and Logical Consequences Work to Change Behaviour?
These types of consequences help to teach kids to make better choices and to learn from their mistakes. The focus is on the choice and the result of that choice, not on the child themselves.
By using natural and logical consequences, we separate the child from the behaviour.
What you did was bad, but you’re not bad.
It helps them to learn that their choices were poor without shaming, judging or punishing them. If we do shame, judge or punish their choices, they will internalize their mistakes as a defining factor of who they are.
I did something bad, so I must be bad.
Using natural and logical consequences also means that dealing with the behaviour is done without anger or fear. The focus is on teaching, not guilting or scaring the child.
Ultimately, logical and natural consequences gives your child the responsibility of choice. They are free and able to make their own choices – they just have to face the resulting consequences.
How to Use Logical and Natural Consequences
Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between a threat and a consequence. Think about it this way:
A consequence is going to happen consistently for the unwanted behaviour. Every time your child drives their bike into the street, the bike is going to be taken away. The consequence is predictable and related to the behaviour.
A threat is usually an emotional or personal reaction to a behaviour. You are just downright mad that your child won’t listen to you and keeps driving onto the road that you are going to take away their television and tablet when you get home until you feel like giving them back.
So what’s wrong with threats? They’re inconsistent, unrelated to the behaviour and tend to happen long after the behaviour has occurred, meaning that the power of immediacy is no longer there. Your child may not even understand why they are being punished by the time you get home.
Remind them of their choices.
Because we are trying to teach our children how to make good choices through discipline, we need to remind them of what their choices are.
We can’t expect a child to process the situation and come up with appropriate choices on their own. Give them the choice of “If you do this desired behaviour, you can get that. But, if you do this undesired behaviour, this will happen”.
This is crucial to using natural and logical consequences when disciplining. Children are smart and, if you only make good for the consequences every once and a while, they will keep repeating that behaviour. If it works for them once, it may work for them again.
When you give your child choices, and spell out the consequences, make sure you follow through. Also try to offer the same consequences for the same behaviours.
So for our little one that keeps veering into traffic, we’ll always take their bike away. Then that consequence becomes expected for that behaviour.