A natural consequence is a consequence that follows naturally as a result of the child’s behavior, without a parent or caregiver getting involved. These consequences are often given by nature, society, or another person.
Example: a child plays too roughly with a toy → the toy breaks beyond repair. The consequence is that the toy is thrown out and the child no longer has that toy.
Logical consequences are consequences that are related to the child’s behavior and given by the parent/caregiver.
Example: Despite being asked to do so, a child doesn’t wear a helmet when riding their bike → the bike is removed by the parent/caregiver for the rest of the day.
Why are natural/logical consequences important?
Natural and logical consequences teach children responsibility for their behavior. The intent is to have the child learn that every action has a reaction. This teaches children that they have control over their own behavior, as well as what happens as a result of their behavior. This also helps children develop decision-making skills. Additionally, logical consequences enable the child to take responsibility for any harm caused or damage done.
How do I do it?
Using natural/logical consequences focuses on a set of guiding principles:
Developmentally-appropriate expectations Be mindful of the child’s age when considering natural or logical consequences. For example, expecting a young toddler to clean up food messes all by themself may not be developmentally appropriate (as they may not have the fine motor skills yet to do this on their own).
Consequences that a parent is willing to live with/enforce You must “say what you mean, and mean what you say” with consequences. If you as a parent/caregiver are unwilling to consistently apply the consequence, then it may not be worth using as a logical consequence for your child.
Do not intervene before the consequence takes place A child will not learn from the consequence if the consequence doesn’t occur.
What else should I consider when deciding on consequences?
Consequences should also be:
Respectful: How you present the consequence should be communicated in a neutral and calm manner. It should not be done with strong emotions, or in a way that shames the child or puts down their character. If possible, stating the consequence in advance can also help set expectations for the child (which can influence what they end up doing).
Relevant: Consequences should demonstrate cause-and-effect. Providing a consequence that is not a logical outcome of a behavior won’t be a helpful learning experience for the child.
Realistic: Consequences should match the behavior appropriately. For example, it would be appropriate to take away a child’s bike for the week if they forgot to wear their helmet one day. But, taking the bike away for the rest of the year would not be realistic.
Relatively immediate: Consequences should be applied as soon as possible after the behavior. Consequences that are delayed are not as effective in demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship for the child.
When might consequences not be a good choice?
Natural consequences may not be best if:
The consequence is dangerous. For example, playing on a busy street or walking around with a sharp object are not behaviors that we want children to learn about through natural consequences.
The consequence is delayed for a long period. For example, the natural consequence for not brushing your teeth is cavities (years from now!). This doesn’t teach cause-and-effect in a meaningful way.
The consequence involves more people than the child. For example, a child destroys a toy that is shared among siblings.
What behaviors would you like to use natural/logical consequences with, so your child can learn from them?
Tip: You can identify behaviors by focusing on key times during the day (e.g., morning routines, meals, downtime) when children tend to have difficulties. You can also think of times when there can be opportunities to teach important lessons about the cause-and-effect between the child’s behavior and a consequence.
When can you meet with your child to discuss natural/logical consequences? Tip: Focus on times when there is low stress, plenty of time, and family members are in a good mood (so they’re likely more receptive!).