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Using natural and logical consequences

What are natural and logical consequences?

A consequence is a result of something a person does. Letting children experience the natural or logical consequences of their actions is one way to teach responsibility.

Natural consequences are the inevitable result of a child's own actions. For example, despite Dad's urging him to put on his coat, Tommy goes outside when it's cold without wearing a coat. The natural result is that Tommy gets cold. This result is a consequence of a choice Tommy made. In this example, natural consequences are:

  • The responsibility of the child — Tommy decided not to wear his coat.
  • Not administered by the parent — Dad didn't send him outside without a coat on.

Logical consequences happen as a result of a child's action, but are imposed by the parent or caregiver. For example, 5-year-old Sandy rides her bike into the street after she was told not to. The logical consequence for Sandy's mother to impose on Sandy is to take her bike away for the rest of the morning. Logical consequences are most useful when a child's action could result in harm to the child. It is important to make sure that logical consequences are reasonable and related to the problem, and to let both the child and the parent keep their self-respect.

Natural and logical consequences result from choices children make about their behavior. In effect, they choose the consequence they experience.

Sometimes the consequence which naturally or logically follows the child's behavior is unpleasant. By allowing children to experience the pleasant or unpleasant consequence of their behavior, parents and caregivers help children learn what happens because of the behavior choices they made. Using consequences can be an effective discipline tool with children three years old and older.

Do natural and logical consequences work?

Natural and logical consequences can be an effective strategy to use because:

  • The consequence is closely tied to the behavior, and gives the child a chance to learn what happens when he doesn't behave in the way you expect him to behave.
  • It separates the deed from the doer, it does not shame or punish the child.
  • It is concerned with present and future behavior and helps children learn to be responsible for their own actions.
  • It is done in a calm environment.
  • It lets children make a choice.

While they can be an effective:

  • The parent must be able to think ahead and come up with a proper response.
  • The parent must not step in and “save” the child.
  • The child must be allowed to experience the consequence.
  • The consequence takes time to put into action and often does not work the first time.

Following the steps and guidelines outlined below can help parents avoid these issues.

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Rose Allen, Extension educator in family resiliency, University of Minnesota; and Linda A. Boelter, Extension family living agent in Oneida County, University of Wisconsin

Reviewed 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension educator in family resiliency.

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