Perspectives on Discipline: The Effectiveness of Natural and Logical Consequences
I discouraged the use of spanking and I recommended an approach that focused on preventing or minimizing the emergence of misbehavior in our children. However, that even with a heavy emphasis on prevention there will be numerous occasions when children fail to act appropriately. We must help them to learn that there are consequences for their behavior. Without experiencing consequences, it is almost impossible for youngsters to become responsible, caring, thoughtful individuals. If we want our children to develop these admirable qualities then we must use consequences that are appropriate, fair, and thoughtful.
But what are appropriate and thoughtful consequences? While they may vary from one child to the next, they should be guided by a couple of principles I highlighted in my first article about discipline. The first is that since the word discipline stems from the word disciple, it is best conceived of as a teaching process. As a form of education, consequences should not be linked to practices that intimidate, hurt, or embarrass children.
The second guidepost relates to the function or purpose of discipline. Discipline should serve not only to maintain a safe and secure environment in which our children learn the importance of and reason for rules, limits, and consequences, but also to develop self-discipline and self-control. The emergence of self-discipline implies that children have assumed ownership for their own behavior so that even when a parent or other adult is not present, they will still reflect on what they are doing and act in a considerate, kind manner.
In this article I wish to define the role of natural and logical consequences in promoting these goals. Children must understand that there are consequences for their actions and that these consequences are neither harsh nor arbitrary. Also, when possible, consequences should be discussed with our children in advance so that they can reflect upon the choices they are making.
Let’s examine natural and logical consequences and the differences between the two. Natural consequences follow from a child’s behavior without requiring any enforcement on the part of parents. Natural consequences should not be used if they place a child in danger (an obvious example is allowing a young child to ride a bike on a busy street in which there is the possibility of getting hit by a car), but are appropriate in many other situations. One common example is when children argue with their parents that they do not need to wear gloves on a chilly day. As parents we often insist that they put on their gloves. A struggle is likely to follow. If we become angry enough, we may fall into the trap of relying on arbitrary consequences, some of which have little relation to the current issue.
As an illustration, at one of my workshops a mother reported that she told her eight-year-old daughter to wear a scarf and gloves when she went out to play. Her daughter responded that she didn’t need these pieces of clothing, that it was not very cold outdoors. Within a couple of minutes the disagreement led to screaming and yelling from both mother and daughter; the mother responded by handing her daughter the following punishment: she was not permitted to go outside and she lost television for the next two days.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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