The Great Punishment Hoax—Using Logical Consequences

I DON’T recommend logical consequences.

It’s simply not the most effective way to respond to misbehaving children.

No, wait. Don’t throw your car keys at my head just yet. I don’t have kids under my roof any more. They’re gone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t remember what it’s like to by hustling on a side-gig while having a 9-to-5, with an older set of teenagers and a younger set of school-agers to chauffeur round all week long. I can help. I swear.

Too often there is only a very thin line between a logical consequence and a punishment. If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know by now how I feel about punishment for ANY reason. Using it to discipline is even worse.

In fact, disciplining by punishing is an oxymoron.. unless:

  • your definition of discipline is to seek revenge, to hurt, or to alienate your child
  • you are trying to avoid having any long-term influence on your child

Strong words? Good! It happens to be deadly accurate. Discipline and punishment have been confused with each other for too long. It is a crying shame, and it has to stop, because it misleads many good people into actually hampering normal child development.

So why in the world do we need logical consequences?

Children who are often punished for wrong-doing by schools and parents still turn out to be mentally stable, successful adults, don’t they?

Well parents and teachers do a lot of other good things. They love their kids and the kids know it. They’re not spending ALL their time shooting themselves in the foot. Children are resilient.  Whatever side-effects they’re left with blends with their personalities like every other average person. For the most part, they turn out OK

Thing is… since when is OK good enough for YOUR child? Every time you punish a child, you’re settling for just “OK” or worse.

Like… there’s a whole host of negative outcomes under the normal umbrella that you’d work really hard to get rid of, if I could show you evidence that it’s the whole belief in punishment and reward that’s the culprit. Well I’m not going to bore you with the research data. It’s there to dig up without much effort almost everywhere.

Oh… and going to the other extreme, allowing them to walk all over you is even worse. I’m sure you’ve seen that and recognize how it looks even if it’s just a toddler in the supermarket.

In “Raising Positive, Confident Children,” I gave some brief pointers on the things you need to do to create an environment where discipline is a vehicle for teaching courage, self-confidence, responsibility, and leadership.

When do awesome parents use logical consequences?

I referred to logical consequences as one of the cruder methods used to discipline. I mentioned that it is not the most effective teaching tool.

So the short answer to the question, “when to consequence?” is,

“When…and only when…all of the more effective methods have been tried and none have worked.  I read some simple pointers the other day that impressed me so much I thought I’d mention them here.

The truth of the matter is that an affectionate, loving bond will help you so much with having  cooperative, positive children in your home that the information in this post should hardly ever be necessary! Makes sense, doesn’t it? That should be all you need to know.  No need to read any further.

But we all know life just doesn’t work that way all the time.

Children WILL be children.

So you need to have logical consequences in your bag of tricks.

Just remember that if you need to pull it out that bag more than just “occasionally,” something is probably wrong with the relationship. Even though you may make up  your mind to use the logical consequence for quick results, red flags should be going up on your mind, telling you that you have to make time for bonding and silly fun with your kid before much longer.

But what EXACTLY is a logical consequence?

The logical consequence is an activity or event that the child is given to do or experience as a result of misbehavior, but you MUST calmly help your child clearly see the the logical connection between that misbehavior and the consequence.

Without a logical connection, it will be experienced by the youth as an attempt to hurt or seek revenge.  Here we go again.

Who among us on the planet wants to learn from, cooperate with, or even LISTEN to someone while, or just after they do something to hurt us?

Like all discipline methods advocated by TLP, a logical consequence is a teaching tool. Teaching tools work best when they:

  1. are just challenging enough to make your child think, but easy enough to learn with a little effort
  2. involve the child in coming up with the answer or solution as much as is possible
  3. are used in calm, non-threatening or even friendly and pleasant surroundings.
  4. get children to start doing what they are supposed to by using a “when-then” choice: 
    “When you’ve cleared up the computer desk, you can go online.
  5. get them to stop doing something they are not supposed to be doing with an “either-or” choice:
    Either you stop texting and turn off your phone, or I’m going to take it away now, and every night and keep it for you since you cannot control your own time and go to sleep at a decent hour.”

But do do you see where logical consequences fall a bit short within the best practice goal we’ve set for ourselves?

They are applied when things go wrong.  As such, even the calmest demeanor will still have an implied threat attached just below the surface. That is NOT a good sign if what you’re trying to do is to prepare the brain for learning something and make it stick.

Learning is still possible, mind you. But it has to be managed in an almost professional manner.  If not, the side effect is to instill fear or to intimidate. Those are high stakes for the small pay-off you can expect. That type of learning is closer to the classical conditioning techniques we have no choice but to use if we’re training dogs. That’s how Pavlov discovered them.

So how do you actually make them work for you?

  1. Can’t think of a logical consequence in the moment? Don’t do all the work your self.  Give your child the job of coming up with the consequence.  After all, who misbehaved?
    There is some nifty psychology involved here too.  Anytime you can get kids to think about their own behavior, you’re cranking up months of personal growth and maturity.
  2. It helps to set things up properly beforehand.  Here is a neat trick for you: Other posts cover communication with children, but one of the best things you can do is to come to an agreement beforehand whenever possible, instead of waiting until the child misbehaves. In fact, the agreement itself often serves to prevent wrong-doing and the need for a logical consequence.

Sounds like too much work?

I swear to you this becomes a lot of fun when you get good at it.  You’ll hear yourself saying something like:

“OK son, so it wasn’t so bad sitting down and talking about this stuff after all, was it?  Now we have a plan in place for whatever might happen when you go to your first concert next week with your friends. You’ve come up with ways to handle it properly if they want to go somewhere else, if someone offers you or start drinking or smoking, and what your own moves will be when the concert is coming to an end.  You have your own plan for how you’ll get home, and you’ve agreed to call me not only then, but two other times during the course of the evening as well.  Now, I don’t expect anything to happen that you can’t handle. You’ve always handled responsibility properly.  What do you think should be the consequence just in case you don’t stick to the plan as we just agreed?  Now you know the drill. We’ve had this kind of talk before.  Come up with a consequence you already know I can live with, or I may come up with one myself that you probably won’t like. So be smart.”

Once its all done you’ll feel a real sense of accomplishment knowing you’ve covered all the bases:

  1. You’re running a small risk, but you’re confident he can handle it because you’ve made sure he built up a history of handling new responsibilities well.
  2. He’s thinking for himself and making his own plans, which cover contingencies.
  3. There are logical consequences set up from beforehand that he was involved with setting himself.
  4. Finally, this was all done in such a way that almost anything that happens will be a learning moment that he can take forward with him through life.

That’s a pretty good day’s work of high-grade parenting, if I may say so myself.

You’ll have turned misbehavior and problems into powerful teaching moments.

How about last week’s little story?  Anything to add now that we’ve added this post on logical consequences? The story had some pretty obvious problems the school was being confronted with.

Next, we’ll share some parting tips on how to squeeze out a bigger pay-off while curtailing on the nasty side-effects

But by now, you should be gritting your teeth and thinking to yourself:

“Problems? what problems? I got this!  I can use this right away. Before my kid is much older, I’ll have a mover/shaker on my hands.”


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  2. […] can be negative or positive, but make sure the child sees the connection between the consequence and the behavior.  Without such a connection, you’ve moved into “punishment” mode.  PTT is a […]

  3. […] can be negative or positive, but make sure the child sees the connection between the consequence and the behavior.  Without such a connection, you’ve moved into “punishment” mode.  PTT is a […]

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