Discipline that Makes Sense: Natural, Logical, and Imposed Consequences
Quite often we hear a parent warning a child about the consequences of his or her behavior. Sometimes we watch and listen as frustrated moms and dads try to handle unruly children in the grocery store, only to make matters worse by yelling and yanking, or simply giving up and “yessing” to the demands of little ones.
There is a way of addressing difficult behaviors that may be helpful whether in the grocery store, at home, or anywhere else they may arise.
First, decide whether or not an intervention is even necessary. Sometimes letting the natural course of events take place is the best learning tool of all. An example of this is when a child does not eat supper; the natural consequence is hunger soon thereafter. While there may be reasons for allowing a child to eat before bedtime, a choice to disallow this may prevent a number of problems later on. Natural consequences are the strongest behavioral reinforces of all, though they must be tempered with the safety and well being of our children.
Another helpful intervention, is a logical consequence. In the aforementioned scenario the option to allow the meal to be reheated and eaten before bedtime is appropriate. Moreover, logical behavioral consequences such as withholding dessert and evening snacks will reinforce that the child learns to eat at evening mealtimes.
Many times parents choose to use imposed consequences. These are poorly connected to the behavior, and do little to teach children the rationale for the consequence. An example is not allowing television if a child does not eat supper. This parental reaction might have been logical if the child did not do homework, but has no bearing on eating supper. While there will always be debate over whether or not corporal punishment (spanking) is a useful parenting tool, when children are subject to corporal punishment they learn that mom or dad is upset with their behavior. However, they do not learn the behavior that was desired. Even time-outs have little or no connection to the child’s behavior, and should be used only to remove a child from an inappropriately reinforcing environment, and not as an overused punishment. The point is to teach rather than to punish.
Parenting does take work. Thinking through how the child will best learn, while maintaining safety is a task. However, the more this takes place, the easier it becomes. Furthermore, there is much less of a chance of power struggles when natural or logical consequences are used. Good parenting focuses on responding to a child’s behavior rather than reacting to it.
In the case of the child in a grocery store, a proactive plan regarding what the child is allowed to buy will assist in the ability to make decisions, a make for a much more positive shopping experience for all. This may be a piece of fruit or some cheese from the deli for example. On occasion, a small piece of candy may be appropriate, but the parent will head off conflict if choices are given before entering the store while also letting the little one know that whining, crying or acting out to get something will result in not being able to purchase anything. This is a logical consequence, and one that will surely pay dividends in future trips to the supermarket.
Remaining in control, providing choices, and responding so that we are shaping and molding children’s behaviors is a parent’s responsibility. Thinking through the best options and responses to behaviors does take a significant amount of effort, but in the long run this will result in the benefit of a self confident, well adjusted, and more self regulating child.