Let’s Get Logical

One night while taking a bath, Dalia splashed water all over the bathroom. Water was everywhere – on the toilet, the floor, the walls, and the sinks. I walked in, took one look around, and felt the blood boiling from my stomach to my head.

 

Just as I was about to explode with anger, I had a thought. A very logical thought: “She’s going to clean it up.”

 

 

Now, I know this may sound ridiculously obvious. But so much of the time when my buttons get pushed (especially when it comes to messes), I’m unable to think logically and rationally.

 

When my buttons get pushed, my knee-jerk reaction is to use punitive measures to protect my ego and prove that I’m the “boss.” It’s the way I was raised and the way many parents I’ve worked with react when they get triggered.

 

We think, “What’s really important to my child? What can I take away or withhold so that she suffers?” We think that through suffering, kids will learn a lesson.

 

For example, Dalia loves her blankie. So, if I had wanted to punish her, I could have simply taken it away. But since taking away her blankie didn't fit the situation, she wouldn't have learned anything about taking responsibility for her mess. Punishing her would have done little to inspire change or accountability. Instead, it might have inspired anger, resentment, or revenge.

 

Kids have a keen sense of fairness. They know when something is unjust. Using arbitrary or illogical punishment only serves to help parents feel in control and powerful, while instilling fear and powerlessness in their kids.

 

Bonnie Harris, author of Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids says that true authority “has nothing to do with controlling another and all to do with controlling yourself.

 

Enter: Logical Consequences.

 

Suppose you failed to pay your electric bill. Would you expect the electric company to send someone to your house to remove your piano? It sounds absurd, but that’s exactly how we dole out punishments to our kids. Didn’t clean up your toys? No dessert. Hit your sister? No TV. Ignored curfew? No cell phone for a week. Broke something? You’re grounded.

 

Where’s the logic in any of that?

 

Logical consequences teach accountability and don’t require the parent to yell, threaten, or act aggressively in any way. Because these consequences are based on reason, kids understand them. They make sense, so kids actually learn from them, rather than getting defensive about being blindsided by an arbitrary sentence.

 

Logical consequences differ from natural consequences (which are also extremely effective) in that they don’t naturally follow a behavior (e.g. your child refuses to wear a jacket and then learns that she is cold without it), but are imposed by the adult and are logically linked to the behavior. They are most effective when they are set in advance, so the child knows what to expect.

 

Using the examples above, logical consequences would be:

  • Didn’t clean up toys – Toys are temporarily put away and unable to be used
  • Hit sister – Siblings are temporarily separated
  • Ignored curfew – Privilege to go out with friends is temporarily suspended
  • Broke something – Child helps fix it or uses own money to replace it

 

Notice that the word “temporarily” is used. The duration of the consequence should be proportional to the behavior. Many parents who think punitively assume that a longer sentence teaches a better lesson. Again, this is irrational. Lengthy consequences wind up being harder for parents to enforce and make children angry and resentful, rather than motivated to change their behavior.

 

I bet you're wondering what happened when I told Dalia she had to clean up the water all over the bathroom. Without hesitation, she said, “Ok.” I handed her a towel and she dried the toilet, floor, walls, and sinks. Then she looked up at me and said, “Mommy, this is hard work.”

 

Mission accomplished. And she went to sleep all snuggled up with her blankie, too.

 

 

Do you have examples of logical consequences from your own experience? Or, if you could go back in time and change a punitive consequence, what would you do differently? Leave a comment below.

Need help identifying and enforcing consequences in your own family? Check out my private coaching services here!

Showing 10 comments
  • Marilyn
    Reply

    As I read this, my son made a big mess attempting to climb some closet shelves and knocked down the kitties food container. Cat food all over floor and another bin I had full of toiletries. I go in and he starts to tell me how he made a mess. When I saw it I said oh looks like you’ve got a mess to clean up and I left since I was putting my daughter to sleep. He asked for help but told him I needed to put her to bed. When I got done with daughter he showed me how he was able to clean up the toiletries but was having a hard time picking up the cat food. I showed him how to do it and told him to keep cats out or they would cause a bigger mess. Well he thought it was a good idea to let cats in so they could eat up what was left and they ended up knocking it down again causing a bigger food mess than the first time. At this point I want to scream because it’s past his bed. When teaching should I be helping if they are struggling. What about taking story away since our lights out timer went off already and he’s still cleaning

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Marilyn! Deep breaths, Mama. I feel your frustration. What stands out to me is your son’s willingness to accept responsibility and his motivation to help. I would definitely show him some appreciation, and encourage this behavior. There’s no need to say any version of “I told you so” about the cats making a bigger mess. Hopefully, he understands it for himself now.

      To answer your questions, I think you can help if he’s struggling as long as you’re helping and not doing all the work for him. Also, I think it’s a natural consequence that there’s no story (or a much shorter one) because of the time it took to clean up. Let me know how it goes/went. You got this!

      • Marilyn
        Reply

        Thank you for your reply. I did end up helping him, I sent him off ahead and told him I needed a few min to calm myself down. I understand why you don’t need to but haven’t completely let go of the “I told you so” without saying those words. Need to work on that more. We also ended up reading a short story since he did end up cleaning I didn’t want to end evening with no story/snuggle time. Thanks again

        • Pam Howard
          Reply

          You’re welcome, Marilyn. Sounds like you figured it all out on your own and were able to stay calm. Well done!

  • Elena
    Reply

    Thank you for your quick reply. This makes sense to me. It has only happened once so far. I love the idea of using logical or natural consequences. It isn’t always easy to come up with something logical. Thanks again.

  • Elena
    Reply

    What might be a logical consequence for a 3-year-old who decided to cut her leggings with scissors during craft time at pre-school?

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hi Elena! So glad you asked! Since you didn’t provide more information, I’m assuming that this was a one-time occurrence and that she was just testing out her cutting skills and curious to see what would happen if she cut her leggings. The natural consequence is obviously that her leggings are shorter or unwearable. I realize that this may bother you more than it bothers her, but she still sees the result of her actions. I think the most important thing is to talk to her about why we don’t cut our clothes and then talk about things she IS allowed to cut. If you still think a logical consequence is necessary because it might happen again, you could let her know in advance that she would not be allowed to use the scissors for a certain period of time. Is that helpful?

  • Sarah Holley
    Reply

    Great post, Pam! I know that often I’m guilty of just wanting them to NEVER DO THAT AGAIN, so I’ll come up with some extreme consequence so I don’t have to deal with it again. As you say, though, those punishments are so often illogical and only induce anger in our kids. Sometimes it takes more time to follow through with a logical consequence, but the payoff is huge. Case in point: one of my kids made a hole in the wall, so I had to teach him how to fill it in with drywall compound, sand it, and repaint it. Time consuming for me, but a much better teaching tool than taking away the x-box for a week!

    • Pam Howard
      Reply

      Hey Sarah! Great point about logical consequences sometimes taking more time upfront, but being worth it in the end. I love the example you shared about your son making a hole in the wall…and the consequence of fixing it was perfect!

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