As non-punitive parents, natural and logical consequences are a big part of the process of teaching our children.
The difference between natural/logical consequences and punishment may seem minimal to some but it has a big impact in non-punitive parenting. The problem is that both of these can be used as punishments as well as being simple teaching tools.
I also often see the terms being confused and being used in ways that no longer fit within the realm of non-punitive parenting (in places that non-punitive parenting is the goal).
Here is an example I saw recently: “My child would not pick up his toys when I asked so the natural consequence was that the toys be taken away.” Or: “My child refused to put his coat on before so the natural consequence was that he was cold later in the day.”
This is a great example to show how the terms are being misused or used as a punishment. Taking away toys that are left out is not a natural consequence, nor is it a logical consequence. It is a punishment. It is a punishment that related to the situation, but it is still nothing more then a punishment. And, yes, the natural consequence of not putting a coat on is that you might get cold, but if you can predict an uncomfortable circumstance then you are using the natural consequence as a punishment also.
So, what is a natural consequence? Simply put, it is what happens without any outside manipulation. Natural consequences can be positive or negative and are a direct result of a situation. Some natural consequences are immediate and some can or cannot be foreseen.
Logical consequences on the other hand are consequences that are manipulated by another person. To be effective and non-punitive they need to be related, respectful, reasonable. They are used in most cases to either prevent a foreseeable natural consequence or to rectify a situation. A logical consequence will often not feel like a punishment to either the adult or the child and it will in many cases be what becomes a naturally self-imposed consequence (or solution) as an adult.
So with the above situation, the natural consequence of not putting toys away would simply be that the toys will simply stay on the ground until they are picked up. Some may say that the natural consequence is that the toys will get broken or stepped on. And, yes. That *could* happen, but it is not a guarantee.
So what is a non-punitive parent to do in this situation? Well, first you can explain why you would like the toys to be picked up and since you know that there is a possibility that the toys could be broken if left out, you can point that out and ask the child to find a solution on their own, or find a solution together. It could be for the kids to pick the toys up on their own. You could ask them to help you pick the toys up. They could keep the toys contained to a space so that they do not need to be picked up. You could work together to reduce the number of toys so that there will be less toys to pick up or simply not let as many toys come into the house to begin with…. and well… you get the idea… . All families are different and each situation is different and may need different solutions (without ever using punishment). These are all logical consequences, and as I said, logical consequences often become self imposed solutions later on. So a direct example of this is my husband Simon who likes to play board games which can often take hours to play. Having it on the kitchen table would mean that the kids might touch or that he will have to put it away before finishing because we need the table, so the solution he found was to put a table in the computer room so that he can have the game out for days.
Now, say you have a child that keeps on running in the street. The natural consequence, is that he will be in the street; however, if a car comes there is a possibility that they might get hit by a car. No one will risk that happening of course, so the logical consequence may be that the child must hold hands, needs to stay in the back yard, or be in a carrier, etc., or head somewhere where they cannot run into the street, etc. Of course, it may be unpleasant for the child in the moment but it is not a punishment per say. For a young child, you would use playful parenting and distraction and other methods to get the child to move onto something else. You are not trying to make a situation unpleasant in order to teach a lesson.
(Of course, there are times when parental fear gets muddled into these types of situations and you have to differentiate between a real danger and a perceived danger… but that is another post altogether!)
Of course, as said above though, natural consequences can be used as punishments also. If a child doesn’t eat supper, then the natural consequence is that they will be hungry. If you refuse to let a child eat when they are hungry, then you are using the natural consequence of hunger as a punishment because they could rectify the situation by eating yet you are preventing it to make a point.
The same goes with that coat that I mentioned above. A parent has experience and wisdom that a child may not yet have. So if a parent can think ahead and know that a child may be cold later even though they are not cold now and are refusing to take a coat, then the parent should not use the child’s inexperience as an imposed punishment. You bring the coat and when or if they are cold you use that as a teachable moment (with a child of the right age of course) without making it unpleasant. You can simply say, “This is the exact reason I wanted you to bring a coat earlier. you were not cold before but when you are outside for a while/the sun goes down/it gets windy you can sometimes get a bit colder. I brought your coat for you, but maybe next time we can plan ahead together?” That is it. Teaching and learning should not be unpleasant.
Here is another example of logical consequences is something that just happened in our house. Xavier (nearly 11 and stronger then he knows at times) was upset and hit the wall, and well, he made a hole.
Yeah, that happened.
Well, the natural consequence is that there is a hole in the wall which we don’t want.
The logical consequence is that because he is responsible for putting it there, he needs to help fix it which means that he will be learning about drywall, will be taking part in patching up the hole and will be paying us back for material. This logical consequence is not about punishing. It is not about us trying to make the situation more unpleasant then it should be. It is about rectifying the mistake he made and through it he will be learning skills and might even have fun. (Well, except for giving up some of his money.) Remember, that discipline is about teaching. This is discipline.
There are many people that associate non-punitive parenting with permissive parenting but it is far from being so. It is about learning how to live through life events and being responsible for your actions without the whole thing becoming negative or unpleasant.