A Parenting Homework Assignment on Natural and Logical Consequences


In anticipation of the benefit workshop on “Working Effectively with Parents” coming up this Friday, below you’ll find a sample Parent Homework Assignment adapted from the book: “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” (John Wiley & Sons, 2011) by John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan. If you want to attend the workshop, call Families First at 406-721-7690 to register.

The Beauty and Power of Natural and Logical Consequences

            Life is not easy and children (and adults) learn through struggles, failures, and disappointments. Your goal, as a parent, is to create a reasonable, consistent, and loving home and then let your child struggle with the demands of life. These demands include very basic things like:

  • Not getting to watch television after a certain time
  • Participating in housecleaning
  • Not getting attention 100% of the day
  • Having to get ready and get to school on time
  • Having to wait your turn to get served dessert or to play with an especially-fun toy
  • Not getting to eat your favorite food for every meal
  • Having to tie your own shoes

As you might gather from the preceding list, even little things in life can be hard for a growing child. . . but to learn, children need to directly experience frustration and disappointment.

Natural or logical consequences are a necessary part of learning. They help your child get better at surviving disappointments in the world and in your family home. Natural and logical consequences are always related in some way to the misbehavior and are not given out with anger or as “punishment.”

Here are some examples:

  1. Your children leave toys in a public area of the house, even though they’ve been told to put toys away when done playing. Logical consequence: Use a “Saturday box” or put the toys in time-out. This involves picking up the toys and putting them in a box and storing them away until the next Saturday (or whatever day) when they’re given back. This logical consequence avoids the over-reaction (“If you don’t put your toys away, then I’ll give them away to someone else”) and the attention-giving lecture (“Let me tell you about when I was a child and what would happen if I left my toys out . . .”) and instead provides children with a clear, consistent, and reasonable consequence.
  2. Your children argue with you about a consequence or about you being unfair. Logical consequence: You let your children know, “I don’t feel like arguing about this” and leave the area. You may want to go to the bathroom to take time away to further develop your planned response. While remaining friendly, another important message to give is, “I know you’d like things your way, but we have rules and consequences for everyone in our family.” Of course this may trigger another argument and you can walk away again and tell your children, “I know you can figure this out and not have this consequence next time.”
  3. You cook dinner, but your children don’t show up on time. Reasonable rules and logical consequences: If you cook dinner, everyone needs to show up on time and be respectful about the dinner-eating process. That doesn’t mean everyone has to eat every bite or provide you with lavish praise for your most excellent meal, but respectful attendance is a reasonable expectation. If your child is late for dinner, one reminder is enough. No drama or excess attention is needed. Just sit down and start eating and enjoying the mealtime process. Possible logical and natural consequences include: (a) your child prepares the next meal; (b) you put away foods after you dish yourself up and so the child has to get them out and serve him/herself; (c) you got there early and prepared the food and so your child gets to stay after and clean up; (d) no special rewards (e.g., eating dinner in front of the television); instead, your child eats alone at the table.

To do logical and natural consequences, it’s helpful to work on the following:

  1. Take the “punishing” quality out of your voice and the interactions. This is not about punishment; it’s about what’s logical, reasonable, and natural. You can even be friendly and positive.
  2. Prepare in advance. Because you’ll be emotional when your children are noncompliant, it’s critical that you have a list of logical and reasonable and natural consequence ideas in your head. Otherwise, you will over-react. Going to parenting classes or talking with other parents can help you identify a wider range of reasonable consequences.
  3. Use small consequences. Your purpose is to teach your child. Your purpose is not to hurt or humiliate. Learning occurs best if children are not emotionally overwhelmed by large consequences. Small consequences provide plenty of feedback.
  4. Use mirroring and encouragement. Reflect back to your children what they’re feeling (“It’s very upsetting that you can’t play with your toys for the rest of the week”). Let your child know that you think things will go better the next time around (“I know, if you want to, you’ll be able to remember to put your toys away next time”).
  5. Don’t lecture or shame. Let the small consequence do its work.
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