Perspectives on Discipline: The Effectiveness of Natural and Logical Consequences (page 2)
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.
This mother noted that her daughter often questioned her authority and that power struggles were not unusual. I talked about selecting our battlegrounds carefully and in an empathic and hopefully humorous way I asked the mother, “What would have happened if your daughter had gone outside without her gloves or scarf? Was the weather so cold that she was in danger of freezing?” This mother smiled and said, “No,” but then added in a more serious tone, “but my daughter has to learn that she cannot dictate to me.” I agreed but suggested that she consider which issues warrant taking a strong stand and which do not.
This mother asked me what might be an alternative approach. I responded that if there was not the possibility of her daughter freezing, it might be best to change the usual negative script and simply say, “If you feel you don’t need your gloves or scarf right now that’s okay, but if it gets colder out you can come in and get them.” I added, “A natural consequence will be that your daughter gets cold. If she doesn’t want to come in and get her gloves, I am certain she will place her hands in her pockets.”
I received a humorous call from this mother a few days later. She said, “My daughter seemed stunned at first when I followed the approach you suggested. Much to my surprise and delight, she came in about 30 minutes later and said that the temperature had dropped and she put on her gloves.”
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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