Updated: Mar 1
By: Logan Cohen - Professional Therapist & Online Life Coach
It is a really tough job to be a Parent these days and one of the most common issues I see with Families in my practice is centered around problematic child behavior as the presenting problem. Not only am I a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an Approved Supervisor with the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy in my own successful private practice, but I’ve also been in the trenches with adolescents in clinical residential settings through the early years of my career.
I have worked with the most difficult of “the difficult” out there in terms of pediatric cases and whether in residential settings or in outpatient settings at my practice at New Leaf Counseling Group - Parenting when our Kiddos are misbehaving is SOOOO HARD. This is difficult for me as a Parent with my own Child; it feels the hardest in residential settings; and it’s ALL OVER the faces of Parents in my office in private practice when their childs behavior is out of control. In fact, I’ve written a good bit about the concept of “Tough Love” through Balanced Parenting in this article here.
The article above provides a summary about the concept of “Balanced Parenting” in general. The approach of Balanced Parenting relies on "logical/natural consequences" to provide structure for behavioral expectations, rather than relying on punishment to control the behavior of Children in the moment.
One of the most important Life Lessons is that choices have consequences and it is our responsibility as Parents to facilitate these lessons. Children do not come pre-programmed with the direct link between their behaviors/choices and the resulting consequences. With this being said, an important aspect of earning our Kids’ trust also has to do with the fact that they are NOT yet ready to navigate The World independently on their own.
The trust of our Children is not based solely on their feeling comfortable with us, but also on their expectation that we have done our due diligence in setting them up for success by providing adequate access to Life Lesson's SAFELY. If your Boss was privy to an important piece of data in your World and did not at least encourage you to consider this information in your decision making process, how would this impact the trust you have in your Boss? The most Balanced way to do this is by using logical and natural consequences to create the structure for behavioral expectations.
Children who experience adequate logical and natural consequences learn that they have an appropriate level of control over their immediate environment. As their level of confidence with this stabilizes with consistent exposure, they increase their confidence in their own ability to sustain their own performance expectations. As a result, one of the Life Lessons Children learn is that they are free to choose their own behaviors, as long as they are willing to accept the associated natural consequences (can be either positive or negative). Parents who use logical and natural consequences are teaching their children that they can control their behavior and have the power to choose those actions - regardless of the situation.
Adults often think of punishment as a tool for changing a child's behavior or teaching a Child how he or she should behave. While it can be very effective for demanding compliance, punishment is NOT a “natural” consequence, nor is it usually even a “logical” consequence. This is particularly true when punishment is handed-down out of a parent's anger or frustration. And in these cases, a punishment reflects no more to our Children than an invitation to participate in a “power struggle”. Is this one of the Life Lessons up intended to provide?? If not, have no fear - just keep reading...
Natural consequences occur automatically and happen to the child as a result of his or her behavior - without parental involvement. An example of this might be a child who does not play by the game rules with other children, so will not be asked to play the next game. Or, even that touching a flame or a “hot plate” will burn your finger. Or even further along in development, that a teenager caught driving later than the legal curfew has his permit suspended.
Children sometimes learn life lessons quickly from natural consequences - as in the case of burning their finger (or FACE - ouch!). Other times, repetition of the natural consequences must occur. This is more likely to happen when the situation is more “dynamic” and involving more variables - such as the child who is not invited into the next game because they won’t play by the rules. Children learn these lessons personally and with OWNERSHIP - and sometimes the hard way.
It can be very difficult to give our Children space to learn these lessons and while this comes from a pure place as a Parent, it would be selfish for us to rescue Kids from their own consequences. If Children are never able to experience life lessons adequately, how else are they supposed to take themselves seriously in the REAL world?
Children should be allowed to take SAFE risks and learn life lessons from their own decisions as-much-as-possible. When a child's environment provides safe, natural
consequences that demonstrate clear lessons of cause and effect, parents should
allow them to occur rather than imposing additional consequences. This is NOT the time for lectures or “I told You So’s”. They are ALREADY learning the lesson and it is separate from you, so why make YOURSELF part of the experience as a Parent if it is already taking place? The only time this is appropriate is when the child asks. If he or she wants to talk the situation through with you as the Parent, then that means you have consent and you can “go for it”.
Natural consequences should NOT be used in the following cases:
When the natural consequence is dangerous or may be harmful to the child past the point of a skin abrasion. An example of this is allowing the child to play in the street where she may be struck by a car, or allowing a young child to climb in a tree, where they might fall and get seriously injured.
When the natural consequence is delayed for a long period after the child's behavioral choice. When the timing of the consequence is too far removed from the event, the child does not optimally associate the behavior with the consequence. This prevents the consequence from impacting the child’s perception of their situation, which in turn blocks the learning opportunity from taking place as much as it could. An example of this is a child not completing their school work and failing. Another example is when a child leaves their new bike out in the yard, instead of the garage - and it rusts.
The natural consequence is not isolated to the child, but also causes significant problems for others. If allowing a natural consequence to occur causes significant enough problems for others - including the parent - then it might not appropriate to allow the consequence to unfold. An example of this is when missing the bus results in a parent having to drive the child to school. Another example is when a skateboard gets left in the driveway, which results in its being backed over by a car, damaging both and costing the household resources.
Logical Consequences are provided by the Parent, however they are distinctly different from punishment in some important ways:
1) planned in advance by the parent - NOT reactive or responses created while angry.
2) often planned with input from the child (their input is different from negotiation)
3) Logical consequences make sense in relation to the specific problematic behavior in question - think literally “logical.”
Guidelines for Developing Logical Consequences:
This can be the “trickiest” one of the two types of consequences because it requires more preparation, active tracking, and follow through from the Parent. Unfortunately, this is also the one most likely to result us getting an earful as a Parent from a angry Child, so let’s talk about how to do this. There are some right ways and some wrong ways of implementing logical consequences and while the options for intervention are very flexible, doing this the wrong way is likely to cause an un-needed power struggle that will further harm the Relationship with your Child.
1) The parameters for expectations should be developed in advance of the situation that will unfold and the behaviors, whenever possible. While they might need to occur after a misbehavior at times, moving forward this should be “ironed out” and taken into consideration before the next re-offense. “Fool me once - fool me twice”
2) Logical consequences are most effective when agreed upon by both parent and child. This is ideal to create even greater compliance through ownership of the process. It also ensures there is clarity because if the Child has been involved in the creation of the expectation, then we KNOW that they KNOW as Parents. As an aside, notice the verbiage hear reads “most effective”. If a Child is being unreasonable when invited into the privilege of problem solving their own behavioral expectations, then that is sufficient enough reason to cut them out of that part of the process until they are willing to be more reasonable. And as Parents in this particular situation, we can even explain what we are doing in the moment to AGAIN put those logical consequences in play. “You can participate in this if you can handle it. If not, I will provide you with less to handle until you can show me that you are more ready.”
3) Logical consequences should make sense when viewed in relation to the behavior. The more logically connected a consequence is to the target behavior, the more our Children will be able to learn from each experience of the logical consequences. It is ALREADY going to be outside of Kiddo’s comfort zone, so let’s at least make sure the message is clear.
An example of logical consequences that are not connected closely enough to the problematic behavior is when our Kids do not complete their school work and as a result “are grounded”, but meanwhile stay home and play video games, which is what kept them from their school work in the first place. Can you see how that lesson just CANNOT stick? Or even worse when our Child acts out, then we YELL at them??
4) Should be neither too strong nor too weak in relation to the behavior. Parents who act out of anger usually impose consequences that are too heavy in proportion to the misbehavior. On the other hand, many parents soften consequences because they are disturbed by the child's distress over the consequences - find the middle ground here Parents!
If we are too heavy-handed, we will lose the Trust of our Children
If we are not firm enough, we will lose the Respect of our Children.
5) Logical consequences should occur as soon as possible after the misbehavior. Don't delay them until they become too far disconnected from the misbehavior. As discussed earlier in this article, the swiftness at which the consequence is experienced will help make said experience that much more of a learning opportunity for our Children. The more time that passes, the more disconnected the lesson/consequence gets from the target problem behavior.
6) Logical consequences should be enforceable – don't make-up consequences you can't enforce! I KNOW THIS SEEMS LIKE COMMON SENSE...but alas, this Parenting thing is hard in day-to-day Life. Obviously, if we cannot enforce a logical consequence as a Parent, then nothing will happen that provides our Children an opportunity to learn from their choices. If the consequence is not enforceable, we are “cutting ourselves off at the waist” as Parents from the beginning. Just don’t do that please.
And just “food for thought”, if consequences are too demanding of our time or energy as Parents, we are not as likely to follow-through with them. That is just the plain truth when it comes to the Science around behavior modification, so let’s BE REAL with ourselves and only bite off as much as we can chew.
7) Logical consequences should be applied consistently. Consistency is a critical element of logical consequences. Inconsistency sends the message that sometimes there are no consequences for misbehavior. This sends the message that Kiddo is “getting away” with the misbehavior occasionally, and will actually serve to reinforce the problematic behavior in question with this variable interval ratio reinforcement schedule. The reason I chose to include that WHOLE.WORDY.PHRASE....is because this is the same behavior modification schedule used to train people to gamble compulsively. Feel free to “copy and paste” that phrase into a search engine and check out the research yourself. You don’t want to turn yourself into a perceived toy for your Child to act out just to see how you will respond and if they get what they want.
8) Logical consequences should be appropriate to the child's level of development. Notice the verbiage here reads “level of development”. While oftentimes this is the child’s “chronological age” (age in years), there are cases where this is not so when it comes to diagnosed issues such as ADHD or anxiety, but it also might be the case for an immature wiggly little Boy. For example, having a 3 year old child sit in time-out for 30 minutes is not developmentally appropriate in the same way that having a 10 year old with ADHD sit quietly in a corner for an hour is not developmentally appropriate.
Logical consequences are not “threats”. Threats have no value, because there is no consequence actually there. It is a mirage that hopes to get a reaction, then if this isn’t the case, it won’t be backed up anyway. Threats teach children to be afraid rather than problem-solve and to avoid being observed as a failure by Loved Ones. And perhaps as harmful as hurting the Relationship, it also does not serve to support our Child to learn more about the connection between behaviors and resulting consequences.
Logical consequences should not be cumulative. Piling-up restrictions only serves to make the child see the consequence as further and further beyond their control. This can lead to a loss of hope and even more misbehavior, rather than allowing space for the Child to take responsibility for behaviors and develop greater ownership over the experience.
My name is Logan Cohen and I am a Professional Therapist & Life Coach with over 10 years in the field of Counseling Psychology. I am a Clinical Supervisor for the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy, as well as the founder of New Leaf Counseling Group, LLC in Charlotte, NC. After spending tens of thousands of clinical hours with my own clients, starting a successful group practice, as well as a beautiful Family, I “picked my head up from the grindstone” to check in on childhood Friends & Loved Ones.
I painfully discovered that more than a few of my childhood Friends passed away at a young age from preventable health conditions and decided that as a Man, Husband, Father, and Friend, I could no longer stand by as People suffered in silence and self-destructed rather than ask for help. It doesn’t have to be like that and the holistic healing methods offered by the Balanced Man Plan is designed to help People “get unstuck” and break free from old patterns that are the barriers between Self & quality of Life.
The Balanced Man Plan is a therapeutic digital experience delivered through Self-Guided Coaching Plans created by a Male Therapist with the common barriers & strengths of Men in mind. The Balanced Man Plan has the goal of introducing a natural Balance back to Life so it is sustainable for the optimal Health & Well-Being of Self and Loved Ones - and ALL from the privacy and comfort of Home. If you have enjoyed what you see so far, check out our Self Guided Coaching Plans!