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Logical consequences: What they are and how to use them

Using logical consequences can help your child to see the way their behavior effects others.
Using logical consequences can help your child to see the way their behavior effects others.
Photo by Chad Cooper via Flickr

There is a lot of confusion in the parenting community about logical consequences. Logical consequences are not punishments. They are designed to help not hurt. It is not about making the child pay for what they did. It is not about retribution. Rather logical consequences are a way to allow children to learn how to be in the world. They are often about keeping them or those around them safe.

It is essential that you not impose consequences or use any form of discipline out of anger. It can be difficult, but the first step to successful discipline is for the adults to manage their own emotions and act accordingly.

While natural consequences are often one of the most effective forms of discipline, it sometimes becomes necessary for a parent or caregiver to deliver a consequence to their children. In order for a consequence to be truly effective, it must fit the behavior. It can be tempting to use creative discipline. Keep in mind that the harder you have to stretch to find a consequence, the less likely it is to relate to the behavior, and the more distorted the lesson will become.

To deliver effective consequences, really look at the behavior and make sure the consequences are directly related. Always be respectful when you deliver the consequence. Shaming your child or saying things like “I told you so” will reduce the effectiveness of the consequence and hurt the relationship. In addition, remain respectful toward the child. For instance, if your child keeps throwing toys at you, let them know that if they throw a toy at you again, you will not give it back to them. Let them know that it hurts and you cannot allow them to hurt you. By letting your child know in advance what the consequence will be for a behavior, you are giving them a choice in the matter.

The following are examples of punishment and are not logical consequences: time-out, spanking, loss of privileges unrelated to the behavior (for example, no TV because you lied), grounding, and going to bed without dinner. Most parents use a lot of punishments and very few, if any, logical consequences. Keep in mind that punishments are less effective for changing behavior than other forms of discipline due to how unrelated they are to the behavior and that they rarely involve teaching the child the appropriate behavior, instead focusing on the inappropriate behavior.

If your child spills their drink, having them clean it up is a logical consequence. Depending on their age and developmental level, you may need to assist in cleaning up the mess. Remember not to shame them for spilling the drink or for not getting it 100% clean. The more patience and compassion you show your child, the easier it will be for them to develop the skills they need most in life, including responsibility for their actions.

If your children are fighting over a toy, it may be appropriate to remove the toy until the children can work out their differences. It is important not to intervene every time there is a disagreement. However, if things are getting physical or emotions are too elevated for the children to process the situation, it is appropriate to intervene.

When the misbehavior involves another person, asking the child to heal the relationship can be a logical consequence. If your child is hitting, for example, you should first remove them from the situation. Make sure the other child is not injured, then take the child who was hitting to another room where you can talk about what is going on. As always, validate their feelings, empathize, and then offer to help them find an alternative solution. After alternatives are discussed, remind them that their friend or sibling is in the other room feeling hurt and that it would be nice for them to repair that relationship. Let them help you decide how to do that in the same way you would problem solve with them about other things.

You don't need to make your child feel bad for making a mistake. Everyone makes them. Rather, you are letting them see that everything they do will have a consequence, be it positive or negative Keep in mind that positive interactions should fill most of your day in order to prevent inappropriate behaviors.

The majority of consequences your child faces should be natural, but when you need to impose a consequence, resist the temptation to be creative and go with something logical instead. Remember that the more directly related a consequence is to the action, the stronger the lesson will be.

Do you have a discipline question about a specific behavioral issue? Send it to me at, and I may feature it in an upcoming article.

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