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What Do You Mean — No Punishment Needed?

Logical and Natural Consequences

One of the most cherished beliefs in parenting and in teaching insists that we must punish children. Punishments require little thought. However, when children fail to see a relationship between their behavior and your punishment, they feel resentful. On the other hand, consider the following idea.

Although we do not need to punish children, we must help children make connections between actions and resulting consequences.

The more that consequences (negative or positive) fit behaviors, the greater understanding children can gain. Most parents and teachers want to promote self-responsibility in children rather than to force compliance through fear. When your consequences make sense to a child, you provide a learning opportunity.

The following examples demonstrate the differences in natural consequences (which occur with no action from you) and logical consequences (which require some participation on your part).


gossips about a friend – loses the friend (at least temporarily)

stays up too late – feels sleepy all day


disrupts the group project – gets moved away

steals an item – works to earn money to pay for it

Punishments and Unintended Understandings

When working with children and teens, you have everything to gain from an atmosphere of let’s grow and learn together and everything to lose from an environment of, it’s them against me. Keep in mind that the word discipline means to educate. Below are some results of punishments.

Event — Bob hits Tom.

Punishment — Bob gets spanked.

Unintended Understanding — It’s OK to hit when you get big enough.

Event — Mary leaves dirty clothes on her bedroom floor.

Punishment — Mary does not get dessert.

Unintended Conclusion — Mary thinks, “I have mean parents.”

Understandings from Logical and Natural Consequences

The same events result in different outcomes when consequences that make sense are used instead of punishments. You can read examples of natural and logical consequences below.

Event — Bob hits Tom.

Consequence (natural) — Tom stops playing with Bob. Or. . . Consequence (logical) — An adult separates the boys.

Learning Opportunity — “If I mistreat friends, no one will play with me.”

Event — Mary leaves dirty clothes on her bedroom floor.

Consequence (natural) — Mary can’t wear her favorite outfit because it is dirty. Or. . .

Consequence (logical) — Mary has to wash her own outfit.

Learning Opportunity — “If I want mom to wash my clothes, I need to put them in the dirty clothes container.”

Does giving up punishment sound like “spoiling” a child? We spoil children when we fail to help them to make a logical connection between “When I do _____, _____ happens.” The ultimate goal—for our children to take responsibility for themselves, warrants the extra thought required to make consequences fit behaviors.

Work Cited

Glasser, W. The Quality School Teacher. NY: Harper Collins, 1993

Kvols-Riedler, B. & K. Kvols-Riedler. Redirecting Children’s Behavior. Gainesville, FL: INCAF Publications, 1993.


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