Saturday, January 29, 2011

Punishment and Consequences

Punishment or Consequence?
Natural Consequences or  Logical Consequences?

Punishment:  suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution  (

 Punishment is something you do to your children.  I can't say "we do to our children" since I do not punish my children.  I have been involved in several discussions lately where parents have implied, or stated out right, that you cannot raise children without punishment because they won't be ready for life as adults.  They think That's just the way life is so they are doing their job and preparing their children for the harsh realities of life.

Consequence:  something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions (

Consequences happen as the result of cause and effect. If you jump up and down long enough you will get tired. If you take a bath you are going to get wet.

The term "Logical consequences" has come to mean a consequence that is determined by a parent to be the logical punishment for a child's behavior or action. Some parents and parenting experts think that it is logical to create consequences in addition to the natural consequences. Any consequence that you dole out, influence, or create as a parent is actually a punishment.

Natural consequences on the other hand happen without any effort on the part of the parent. Natural consequences are those things that happen naturally. Life is hard enough, you don't have to make these up. However, some parents feel the need to enhance natural consequences by not stepping in to support their child and some parents feel the need to use natural consequences as a "teachable moment" by pointing out the consequence and shaming the child in the process.

Yes, there are natural consequences in life for adults and yes, there are natural consequences for kids, too.  However, as adults with more life experience I think that we can often soften the natural consequences for our children, as opposed to making them more harsh with "logical consequences." Children do not have the life experience and maturity to always understand what the consequences of a behavior or choice will be. If we know that our child splashes in puddles we can plan ahead and bring along a change of clothes where ever we go.  How much kinder than looking at our soggy child and saying,"You'll just have to be wet and cold, there's nothing I can do about it." Yes, there is something you can do about it, you can show your child the kindness of having extra clothes at the ready.

For those of you who think that parents must punish children or they won't grow up prepared for the realities of life and for those of you who think that we must make sure our children suffer the consequences of their choices and behaviors, I ask you, what is wrong with treating our children how we would like to be treated?   If your husband was getting ready to go to work and he couldn't find the tie that matched his shirt would you tell him that was the consequence of his not hanging it back up, and continue drinking your cup of coffee while he searched on in frustration? If you headed for the door only to find that your keys weren't in their usual place would you expect your children to tell you that was the consequence of not putting them were they belong as they continue to playing their game?

We all forget things, we all lose things, we all make mistakes. When we do isn't it wonderful when someone goes out of their way to help us out, offer us support or tell us they know what it's like because they had the same thing happen once upon a time? We're human, we are imperfect, we don't always get it right. Our children are human and imperfect and they are also new to this world. Why would we expect them to always get it right? They have so much to learn and we have the opportunity to support them in the learning process.

If my child is heading out the door and cannot find the shoes that would match her outfit I am not inclined to say, "You'll have to wear your sneakers, that's what happens when you don't put your shoes by the door." It doesn't matter if my daughter is 2 or 14, I will do everything I can to help her search for her shoes in the amount of time we have before she heads out the door.  Do you think I am making life too easy for my child?  Do you think I am helping her avoid the consequences of her behavior? Here's what I think: When I help my child find her shoes I am showing her that I care about her. She knows that her shoes aren't by the door, she knows she can't find them, she knows that it means rushing around at the last minute.  And if she's too young to know that, then she's too young to be expected to put her shoes by the door in the first place. For some children keeping track of their shoes is easy, for other children it is a challenge. There is no one age when a child is old enough or should know better. Children will do the best they can. If a child fails to meet your expectations than your expectations are out of line, not the child.

"Being kind to everyone includes being kind to our children, our partners, and ourselves.  Kindness begins at home. When children live in a world of kindness they internalize being kind, they understand that when someone is kind to you it feels warm and fuzzy, and they understand that when you are kind to someone else you both feel blessed. Children who experience kindness and respect in their homes are more likely treat others they meet with kindness and respect."  (from my post Be kind to everyone)

As Dana Ellis said, "Yeah, the whole "natural consequences" thing always annoys the shit out of me. My family doesn't hold ME to that! If someone else is making dinner and I get home after dinner, they don't tell me I can't eat! They ask if I want some warmed up! Or if I can't find my shoes they don't make me wear others--everyone crawls around under the furniture to find them for me! It doesn't make me less likely to lose my shoes, it just makes me more happy I have the family I have! :)"

If you think you have to punish your children, create consequences for their behaviors, or let them suffer the natural consequences without support please reconsider. Punishment does not need to be a part of parenting. Learn about unconditional parenting and living a life with your family built on a foundation of unconditional love, respect, trust and connection. If you don't think you have the time to read books here are some articles to get you started:

"The Case Against Time Out" by Peter Haiman

"Parental Love with Stings Attached" by Alfie Kohn

"Atrocious Advice from the Super Nanny" by Alfie Kohn

From my blog:

"Problem Behaviors"

"Arbitrary parenting"

And pretty much every other blog post :)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love the time you invested in putting this wonderful information out there for the world to enjoy. I did and thank you for it.

  3. Great post Jenna! Just wanted to let you know though that I couldn't get the article links to work.

  4. Well,that was weird. Not sure what happened to the links but they should be fixed now. Thanks for letting me know :)

  5. I have to say when you raise children on a farm, life isn't as safe and easy as misplacing shoes. Mine are the self starting, self motivated type who would not be happy if they weren't out shaking and moving. And they are full well knowledable that there are perimeters and consequences that WILL happen without mom or dad being there to smooth it all out for them. In this way I feel that some of what you have to say is slightly unreasonable. I don't think a person has to raise children with an iron fist to instill in them a healthy respect for what could and will happen if...

  6. The point is that parents should be there to support their children when they are out shaking and moving up until each child is old enough to understand that there are natural consequences. How old that is will depend on the child, the environment and the parent and child's combined comfort level with risk taking. Parents also need to have a trusting relationship with their children that includes the ability to communicate freely. This way the parent is able to share information with a child about potential hazards or natural consequences. The parent and child can then discuss those possibilities and discuss ways to be safe in a particular situation.

    A healthy respect does not have to be instilled, it comes from experiencing life and it also comes from being able to trust a parent to provide accurate, truthful, information.

    No one can know all the possible dangers or potential consequences of actions. We all miscalculate at some point in life. When our children miscalculate we can be there to support them, discuss how they feel about it and problem solve together if it's appropriate.

    As a child in east Texas I would get up early and go for a walk. From a young age I would wander the woods, sometimes walking through a horse pasture on the way. I knew that there were poisonous snakes, scorpions and other hazards. I didn't need to be scared into avoiding them, I trusted the adults in my life when they explained why I should avoid them. I also knew that if I left the house before everyone was awake I needed to leave a note so that my parents would know where I was. I understood that this was for safety and why it was important.

    Parents may think they need to scare their child into complying with rules or with threats of consequences. When parents and children have a trusting and respectful relationship they can present information about a situation, discuss it with their children and find ways for a child to explore life to their heart's content while accommodating both the child and parent's comfort levels. If a child is too young for this type of communication then parents need to be right by their side because the child is also too young to understand most consequences natural or otherwise.