“Daniel, if you bother your sister one more time, the consequence is going to be that I take away your new video game for the rest of the week!”
What this parent is really talking about is a punishment, not a consequence. Many people use the words interchangeably, but it’s more than semantics; there is a real difference between punishments and consequences. Consequences are the direct result of a choice or action. They are connected to a problem by either a logical thread or as a natural result. Because consequences are directly related to an action or choice, they are educational. They help us learn how to act in the future by showing us the outcome of something we do today. This was driven home to me very forcefully a few years ago. I was backing out of my driveway and there was a car parked across the street. When I heard the sound of crunching metal instantly realized what I had done. Two thousand dollars later I learned to do a much better job of checking behind me before backing up.
Consequences are one of the best tools that parents have, especially if you don’t want to use punishment and rewards. There are two kinds: Natural and Logical.
Natural consequences are the things that Mother Nature takes care of without any involvement from mom or dad. The natural world is a great teacher. If we get too close to a flame we are burned. If we expose our skin to strong sunshine for too long we get a sunburn. Or if we forget to grab breakfast before dashing out the door, our stomachs are growling by mid-morning. The best thing about natural consequences is that children learn directly from them. Since you (the parent) are not connected to the consequence, they are not going to view it as something you are doing to punish them.
Logical consequences are arranged by the parent but are logically connected to the misbehaviour. For example, if a child won’t wear his bike helmet, the parent can take away the privilege of riding the bike until he is ready to comply with the rule that says they have to wear their helmet each time they ride.
“The arts and crafts supplies are in a box in the basement. They were left on the table and I had to put them somewhere. If you want to have them on the shelf to use, you will have to get them and remember to put them away when you are finished.”
In order to call something a logical consequence instead of a punishment, there has to
be this kind of logical connection. In addition:
- Consequences are not carried out in anger.
- Consequences build in a chance for the child to try again.
- Consequences are less likely to trigger rebellion and revenge.
- Consequences teach the child.
Punishments on the other hand are arbitrarily decided by the parent. Usually the parent removes the child’s favourite toy or activity until the child cooperates. Since there is no logical connection, the child is less likely to learn why they should cooperate. Instead, they learn how to avoid a punishment, which can lead to sneaky behaviour:
- Punishments are often carried out in anger, which can create reciprocal anger and rebellion.
- Punishments are not as effective as consequences in teaching cooperation.
- Punishments are not effective in power struggles.