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.
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