Menu

What to Know About Natural Consequences in Parenting

Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on May 04, 2022

If you're tired of nagging your child to clean their room or do their homework, using natural and logical consequences may be a better option. Letting your child experience the natural or logical consequences of their behavior can help them make better choices without you having to nag and punish them.

What Are Natural Consequences?

Natural consequences are the things that naturally happen as a result of your child's behavior without your interference. Natural consequences can be positive or negative. If your child forgets to take their coat, they'll be cold when they go outside. If your child does their homework on the bus ride home, they'll have the afternoon free to play.

The important thing to remember about natural consequences is that they happen without you having to do anything. They're imposed by nature, other people, or the laws of physics. Time-outs and losing privileges are not natural consequences. 

What Are Logical Consequences?

Logical consequences are imposed by parents or other caregivers. They're a result of and directly related to a child's actions, but they don't happen naturally. A logical consequence of not following bicycle safety rules is losing the privilege of riding a bicycle for a certain length of time. You should establish and communicate logical consequences beforehand so your child knows they're making a choice. 

When Do Natural Consequences Work?

There are some situations where natural consequences are the most effective option. For instance, if your child leaves a toy out in the yard and it gets ruined, they'll likely remember to bring it inside next time. 

Natural consequences work when you don't interfere to "save" your child and your child considers the consequences negative. If a messy room doesn't bother your child, then the natural consequences of not cleaning up won't be effective. 

When Should You Avoid Using Natural Consequences?

You should avoid using natural consequences if they will put your child in danger or they don't matter to your child. In some cases, your child may consider the natural consequence to be positive. If your child bullies another child, their social standing at school may increase. The natural consequence of smoking marijuana may be that your child has fun at a party. You shouldn't let your child experience natural consequences that endanger them or someone else. 

Choosing Between Natural Consequences and Logical Consequences

Under the right circumstances, natural consequences should be your first choice. They don't require you to do anything, and you don't have to be the bad guy. You should choose natural consequences when they: 

  • Are timely
  • Are unpleasant for your child
  • Don't endanger the safety of your child or others
  • Won't cause significant property damage

When using natural consequences isn't an option, choose logical consequences instead. Sometimes the natural consequence will occur too far in the future to have an impact on your child. Letting your child go without brushing their teeth so they'll experience the natural consequence of tooth decay in months or years won't be effective. In these situations, use logical consequences instead.

Guidelines for Implementing Logical Consequences

Tying logical consequences directly to your child's actions will help them make the connection between their choices and the consequences. Unrelated punishments make it more difficult for a child to learn from their behavior. When your child won't put away a toy, taking it away for a while is a good logical consequence, but not letting them watch TV isn't. 

When you're deciding on consequences, keep the three Rs in mind: 

  • Related: Is it directly related to their behavior? 
  • Respectful: Consequences that are demeaning can undermine your relationship and damage your child's self-esteem. 
  • Reasonable: Choose consequences that are appropriate for your child's age and ability to understand. 

Talk to your child and decide on logical consequences together if they're old enough. Make sure the consequences are age-appropriate. It's important to use empathy when using natural and logical consequences. Don't shame or yell at your child. Let the consequences do the teaching. You can show empathy for your child by: 

  • Being aware of their emotions
  • Recognizing their emotions as an opportunity to teach 
  • Helping them label their emotions
  • Being warm and affectionate throughout the process
  • Setting clear boundaries with kindness

Helping Your Child Learn From Natural and Logical Consequences

Although the point of natural and logical consequences is that children can directly learn from their choices, there are some ways you can help reinforce the lessons. Here are some points to keep in mind when using consequences: 

Frame choices. Offering your child choices gives them some control and responsibility. It can also help head off conflict. You can help them see the choices they're making and the consequences beforehand. You can say, "You can choose to finish your chores now and then play with your friends, or you can choose not to play with your friends today." This will remind your child of the consequences of putting off their chores. 

Help your child learn to make smart decisions and problem solve. When your child experiences consequences, brainstorm with them ways they can resolve the current situation and how they can handle similar situations differently in the future. 

Benefits of using natural and logical consequences. Natural and logical consequences can help children learn to take ownership of their decisions. Everyone has to deal with the consequences of their choices eventually. It's better for kids to learn this when they're young than when they're out on their own and some of the consequences are much more severe. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: "Parenting with Natural and Logical Consequences."

Parenting Exchange: "Clear, Consistent Consequences Motivate Cooperative Behavior."

Parenting Now: "Natural Versus Logical Consequences."

University of Washington: "Natural & Logical Consequences."

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info