Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Punishment vs consequences; natural vs logical

on 2 October, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about consequences: what they are, what they mean, what they SHOULD be, what they SHOULDN’T be. We talk a lot, as teachers, about consequences. In general, we agree that “consequences” are preferable to “punishment”. After all, “punishment” sounds so… punishing. And we don’t punish children, right? We let them experience the consequences of their actions. Even better, we let them experience the NATURAL consequences of their actions. Natural consequences are the Rolls Royce of consequences, right?

Erhm, actually, no.childrens-shoes-687958_1920


Natural consequences are what will happen independent of us, if a child’s behaviour continues without intervention. Sometimes we can allow things to proceed until natural consequences occur: a child who takes DECADES to put on her gym shoes may mis
s a chunk of gym class. Frequently, however, natural consequences are not a luxury we can afford. The natural consequences of a child not coming inside when the bell rings at the end of recess are that he will be stuck outside by himself – possibly cold, probably frightened, and definitely alone and unsupervised. At my school, this would NEVER be acceptable. We cannot put children at risk just so they will experience natural consequences.

So, natural consequences may in fact BE the Rolls Royce of consequences. The truth of that being, in many situations, we simply can’t afford them.

Logical consequences, on the other hand – now THIS is something we can work with. Logical consequences are what happens when the consequences is directly linked to the  behaviour in question. They also usually require our intervention. The logical consequence of the above shoe problem (other teachers have this issue, too, right? Shoe situations? Where changing shoes can take up the better part of an afternoon? TELL ME I AM NOT ALONE HERE.) might be that the child has to wrap up her playtime 5 minutes before everyone else so that her shoes will be ON HER FEET before gym class. Logical, yes. Natural, no. In the recess situation, a logical consequence might be that the child must play within a small radius of the supervising adult, so that when the bell rings, the adult can personally accompany the child inside. Logical, yes. Natural, no.

Logical consequences are the Toyota of consequences. Accessible, serviceable, practical, manageable. Available in a variety of price points. Ok, that is as far as I can carry this metaphor, I think.

The fact is, we need consequences. We need consequences that MATTER to kids, because otherwise why would they change their behaviour? We can aim for natural, whenever possible. If we can’t have natural, we MUST have logical. And ideally, we must have logical consequences that will help a child learn to do better. This is hard work, folks.

Having logical consequences means we must come up with different consequences for different issues and different children. It means we have to think. It means we have to be creative. It may mean we have to give up a prep, change a routine, be more flexible, take more notes, think more thoughts, rip apart our usual ways of doing things and stitch them back together. It means that the way we did things last year may not (in fact, PROBABLY won’t) work this year. It means we have to reflect, HARD. What exactly IS a logical consequence for a child who has a water fight every damn time he goes to the bathroom? We can’t forbid the bathroom…. (For real, if anyone has an answer to this, I have a colleague who would LOVE to hear it.)

It means we make “rules” for and with the children we have in front of us. It means we can’t just hang up last year’s behaviour chart with this year’s names. In fact, it really means we can’t hang up a behaviour chart at all (and there are many other reasons to scrap the behaviour chart altogether, as I wrote about here.)

It means we have to totally re-think “time out.”

It means “missing recess because you called your friend a dumbface” is probably off the menu.

It means we rely on relationships, not on systems.

Are you noticing a trend here?

This business of teaching tiny people really is extraordinarily complicated.


4 Responses to “Punishment vs consequences; natural vs logical”

  1. Ramin Mehrassa says:

    As an educator with a Special Ed. background I really appreciate your idea of not having a “one size fits all” discipline policy. We differentiate for curriculum so why not do the same thing for discipline or behaviour issues. Working with behaviour-coded students I rely on logical consequences (which I shall no longer refer to as natural thanks to your post:). And you’re dead on about the importance of relationships. I’m better able to deal with discipline issues with my students because of the trust I’ve built up with them. Thanks for your post as it got me thinking about what I do.

    • Miss Night says:

      You are most welcome – thanks so much for reading. I’m often amazed at how best practices with special populations are not carried over into “typical” classrooms — it seems to me that any approach focusing on the individual needs of individual children is CLEARLY best practice for all children.

  2. Chris Wejr says:

    Thanks for this… we hear this a lot. As you have stated, natural consequences can be harmful to kids so we need to do our best to guide and include them in the learning process.

    I like the restitution addition of “making it right” as part of the process as well. I have used this with students as young as K students so they realize that there is action on their part that sometimes can be beneficial in the learning process. This is obviously dealing with things like hitting other students.

    Enjoying your posts… added to my Reader so I won’t miss them. 🙂

    • Miss Night says:

      Thanks, Chris. Honoured that you’re reading me! I agree about the restitution part. I like having kids ask the other child: “What can I do to make it better?” So much better than a forced apology, and the answers can be so wise. “Don’t do it again to me or anyone.” “Hold my hand until I feel better.” “Go get me some ice.” “Let me be mad at you for a while.” All valid and acceptable!

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