Natural vs. Logical Consequences
Some people are confused by the difference between natural and logical consequences. Actually, it is not that hard. A natural consequence is what is going to happen anyway if no one takes any action. Leave the milk out all night? It will go bad. A logical consequence is the choice a parent can make to deal with that reality. If a child leaves the milk out all night and the milk goes sour, the parent can choose to let the natural consequence stand (You may drink no milk or sour milk.) or he can impose a logical consequence. The purpose of the logical consequence is not to punish. It is to improve an unpleasant situation, to make a wrong a right or to impress a lesson upon someone so she realizes the impact of her actions.
In the case of logical consequences, there are often a variety of choices that will serve the purpose. Sour milk likely affects the whole family. In that case, a parent may choose to not make the rest of the family suffer the natural consequence of sour milk and may find a way for the child to make it up to her family. To be effective, a logical consequence must be related to the situation. It does not make sense, for example, to take away t.v. privileges for forgetting to put the milk away. What does make sense is to get more milk. So, one logical consequence might be that you send your child to the store for more milk. If she is too young to go by herself, you could agree to drive her, but now her mistake is taking you extra energy (not to mention money). There are lots of ways she could make that up to you.
Note that this entire situation can be dealt with in a matter-of-fact tone. The parental script might go something like this:
Yuck, the milk has gone sour. Ana, I think you were the last one to have milk last night. What needs to happen now?
I don’t know.
Well, I guess we can do without milk until shopping day, but that doesn’t seem fair to everyone else.
But, Dad, I didn’t mean to.
I can hear that you feel bad about it, Darling, but we still need to make this right. What can be done to fix this situation?
You could go to the store and get some more.
That’s true, but I need to sort the laundry and get it started right now.
What if I sort the laundry for you, Daddy? I know how to pick out the white laundry and how to start the machine.
That sounds like a good solution. What about the cost of the milk?
I guess I should pay for it. I have two dollars left from my allowance. Is that enough?
Well, it is not enough to pay for a new gallon container, but the container that went sour was more than half used already, so I think two dollars will cover it.
Thanks, Dad! I really appreciate you going to the store for me. I’m sure going to remember to put the milk away next time.
You’re welcome, Ana. [Hug, kiss]
Here are some of the lessons Ana might get from this exchange:
•People make mistakes, and it is not the end of the world
•When someone makes a mistake, it is okay to empathize with her without rescuing her.
•When we make mistakes, the decent response is to try to make the situation right.
•If we need help making the situation right, we can ask others for help and then offer to do something for them to make their life easier.
•Mistakes and making up for them do not change the love and affection families feel for each other.
Here are the principals to keep in mind with logical consequences:
•They are not punishments; they should not shame the child.
•The are similar to what an adult would need to do in a comparable situation.
•As much as possible, the child should find a solution for making it right (keeping
in mind that a younger child might need ideas for appropriate solutions).
•The consequence must be reasonable and age appropriate. Clearly, it is not reasonable to ask a four year old to pay the total cost of replacing a window, but she could pay a portion of her allowance and then offer to do some extra chores. (Yes, I know that supervising extra chores is extra work for you; the pay back will be the lesson your child has learned.)
•Your child is learning. She is going to make lots of mistakes and lots of poor choices as she grows. What you are doing is helping her learn how to recover as much as possible when her actions have had negative effects.
One additional note: Wherever possible, try to help your child anticipate what the natural consequence of their actions is going to be. The natural consequence of not locking up your bike, for example, is its getting stolen. A child may be able to see that far, but he may not see the consequences of not having a bike: You might have to get up earlier so you can catch the bus to school; you might have to do extra chores to pay for the bus tickets; you might have to give up soccer so that you have time on Saturday to do the extra chores. The more you have helped kids think these situations through, a) the more likely they are going to think about the importance of, say, locking their bikes and b) the more likely they are going to handle the consequences with less drama. Making a mistake and suffering the consequence gives a child a marvelous opportunity to take responsibility and show how capable he can be. But I remind you again, this is a learning process! It might takes a lot of iterations before the lesson is fully absorbed.