Consequences That Actually Work! (Part 2 – Logical Consequences)

Consequences that Actually Work 1,2,3 (3)

Last week we kicked off our series on Consequences That Actually Work with a post on the importance of natural impacts. Today we look at what to do when natural impacts are not enough to help kids make things right.

Logical consequences

When children are not motivated by natural consequences, they may need more concrete consequences to help them learn. A logical consequence is simply an enforced consequence that is related as closely as possible to the misbehavior. This could include losing a related privilege, or requiring the child to fix what they broke.


Losing the privilege is a common Biblical pattern for consequences. When Adam and Eve misused the fruit in the garden they lost the privilege of being there. Moses’ disobedience and poor leadership caused him to lose the privilege of leading the people into the Promised Land. David’s sin of adultery cost him the honor of building God’s holy temple. When Jonah defied God, he was “assisted” in doing what he had been asked to do.

Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline, suggests remembering the following “3 Rs” to ensure that consequences are both logical and helpful:

RELATED — When the consequence is related to the misbehavior, it helps to cement the relationship between the initial misbehavior and the consequence in the child’s mind. It is far more helpful than taking away some unrelated privilege (like their favorite toy or dessert). Consider the case of a child who tracks mud into the house after being told to leave his dirty shoes outside. A related consequence here would be to have the child clean the carpet where he walked. If he is too young to do this alone, I can either use the opportunity to teach him or at least help him do the cleaning. This not only lets children know they are responsible for their actions, but it also provides a positive interaction for learning further skills and responsibilities.

REASONABLEA logical consequence must be reasonable — that is, appropriate to the age of the child and the severity of the behavior. Scrubbing the floor where he tracked is a reasonable consequence. It is not reasonable to have the child clean all the spots on the carpet or to forbid him to play outside for three days.

RESPECTFULIn order to be most helpful, the consequence must be spoken and enforced respectfully. Adding humiliation to a consequence makes it hurtful instead of helpful. Simply and kindly explain, “Tracking mud in the house is not OK because it damages the carpet and makes extra work to clean it up.” A simple explanation of the consequence diffuses negative emotions and enlists cooperation. Also, do this as soon after the infraction as possible.  Waiting to implement consequences may extend the problem beyond the memory of the child, which greatly decreases the effectiveness of the consequence.

When helping children understand the natural consequences of their actions is not enough motivation, bring in some reinforcements! Remember the “3 Rs” and use a logical consequence to help your child take responsibility for their actions.

Practice: Take a minute and think of the rules in your home, or maybe some recent bouts of rule-breaking. What logical (related, reasonable, respectful) consequences do you think would best address each situation? Share your ideas in the comments!

Be sure to check out the third and final part of this series on consequences to learn more!

Take 15 minutes to learn how to give consequences that teach, rather than simply punish, by downloading our free ebook Consequences That Actually Work.



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17 thoughts on “Consequences That Actually Work! (Part 2 – Logical Consequences)

  1. We have a 3 year old who is hopefully at his peak of rebelliousness/purposeless defiance and he is staunchly refusing to potty train or get dressed- both of which are well within his grasp. What can be an appropriate consequence? Staying wet and/or not dressed doesn’t phase him.

    • When my almost four year old still would not potty train I decided to put the power on him. I talked about the upcoming day when he would wear underwear and use the potty. When that day dawned I ushered him into the bathroom, said, “You know what to do,” and left. About 10 minutes later I heard the results of him making the right decision and avoided a battle. This may work for getting dressed, also. Best of luck to you!

    • When my then 3 year old would not dress, he was left behind. He could not go on an outing with his sisters. It requires two parents or a babysitter, but after a few times of missing out, he got wtih the program!

  2. I am having a really hard time getting my son (2 1/2) to stay in his bed at night. He is tired, but bedtime can drag out for 1-2 hours. It just makes him more tired, which makes him respond more angrily when we put him back in bed. He is typically not bothered by the threat of a consequence or a reward for doing well. Not sure what to do next?

  3. How do I get my 5 year old to be more respectful towards others? It’s in the way he expects everybody to act as soon as he asks.

    • This is a more complex issue. Kids are disrespectful for many reasons. The main reason is that it’s what they learn by watching, imitating, and then experiencing the results of their experiments to get what they want. We have an entire section in our book “Discipline that Connects” that covers disrespect and defiance. We recommend you read it (it’s only .99 on Kindle right now!) and then write again if you still have questions.

    • Understanding is only attained when a child’s mind is calm. This happens when the parent’s mind and heart are also calm. If you get upset the child is in control of your emotions and he gets a payoff from running away. So get calm. Then – what we did with our kids was bring along a coiled leash. We told the kids that it’s not safe for them to wander the aisles without us. We asked them what they thought might happen. Then we said, “in order to help you stay safe we expect you to stay next to the cart. If you can’t do that then you will wear the leash and we will strap it to the cart. This mostly eliminated the struggle.

  4. My 2 1/2 yr old shuts himself in the bathroom or the van before we catch him (groceries or he runs upstairs). What would be a good natural consequence for that?

    • Remember – Natural consequences are the consequences that happen naturally as a result of any behavior. There’s no such thing as good or bad natural consequences. It’s a parent’s ability to understand and then help their children understand and learn to be motivated by natural consequences. If a child locks himself in the bathroom the natural consequence is that he’s alone in the bathroom. So he’ll miss whatever goes on outside the bathroom. Figuring how to effectively help your son learn about natural consequences requires more information than you’ve given here. What would you rather he do? What is he escaping by running away? What was the mood in the car before you got home?

  5. I hope that anyone looking at this advice will do some research into the harmful effects of leaving your child to cry it out both on their developing brain and their attachment to the parent.
    There are lots of other ways to deal with bedtime. Then if you still wish to use this method at least it will be an informed decision.

  6. HELP! This is great information and I totally agree with everything. I am just struggling with a tween who will say no to my requests. She is a good girl most of the time but will be disrespectful to me and I have no idea what appropriate/related consequences to give her when she tells me “no” and then in essence dismisses me by looking back down at her book, ipod, etc. I try to remain calm but when I tell her this is a warning and that she will have a consequence for not obeying, she will look at me and ask what it is. And normally say, “oh well, no big deal” and still not obey me. I also realize that hormones are playing a part in her behavior but she can not say no to me when I ask her to do something. HELP!!! Normally she will apologize later that night when we are praying together but she still didn’t do whatever I asked.

    • Great question. The ideas we’re teaching parents take some adjusting – especially for those parents who have been taught to focus first on obedience. It’s like we’ve been trained when kids say “No!” to react with consequences for gaining swift obedience. That “default setting” has to be unlearned before you can become more constructive to teach your kids wisdom and respect at times like this. (You can read more about that here.)

      Then with a new goal of earning your child’s respect rather than forcing it, you can take a deep breath when your daughter says, “No!” You can wonder if the way you asked may have felt condescending. You can pray to embody God’s grace and for her to receive it. You can calmly observe what you see and ask truly curious questions — “What’s behind that no? Is there some help you need to get started (with chores/homework/etc)?” The more you do this sort of thing the more your daughter will perceive you as her ally, not her enemy.

      Then, outside of these encounters, take some time when you pray with her, or when all is well to do some empathizing and problem solving – not in a judging way, but in a curious way: “So honey, it seems like it’s hard for you to put that book down sometimes.” (She’ll probably start to bristle, anticipating a lecture. This is then you’re great opportunity to let her know you understand her and aren’t going to lecture her). “I get it. It’s hard for me to shift gears into responsibilities when I’m reading (watching, or otherwise engaged in something I enjoy). What are your ideas about how we could work together better when you’re reading?”

      These are a couple brief ideas. We’ve written much about this sort of thing and invite you to dig around our website. Do an “obedience” search or a “respect” search. And go in our online store and get the book “Discipline that Connects.” We wrote it for parents just like you!