Determining Natural Consequences for Inappropriate/Unwanted Behaviors

Many years ago, I was given some informal training in the Love and Logic parenting techniques. Like most information sources, I integrate and use the ideas that fit my values and circumstances. Love and Logic actually taught me several good parenting techniques that stick with me as a parent and therapist.


One of the main premises of the Love and Logic approach is to allow your child to experience “natural” consequences for their actions. The concept of natural consequences is not exclusive to Love and Logic so there are a lot of good resources to learn about the idea behind natural consequences and how to apply them. I found Education World offers a good description of the purpose and usefulness behind logical consequences and Empowering Parents describes the benefits of natural consequences.

A natural/logical/related consequence is basically allowing your child or teen to experience a consequence that relates most closely with the action. Sometimes, the consequence is so natural that there is really no need for additional consequences to be determined by the parent. For example, if they play too rough with a toy and the toy breaks, they no longer have that toy unless they buy another one. Another example is that if they are up too late the night before, then they will suffer being tired the next day, miss their school bus, etc.

[Cartoon: Staying up late and falling asleep in school]

I found some great examples and explanations on natural consequences here.

Child’s Behavior Natural Consequence
Stays up late and is late for school She feels tired the next day, the teacher is angry and makes her stay after school.
Refuses to wear mittens Her hands get cold.
Refuses to eat dinner She feels hungry.
Smokes marijuana She feels “high” and gains acceptance from peers. She may be suspended from school if caught.
Shoplifts clothes at store She gets free clothes. She may be caught and arrested.
Plays with cigarette lighter She burns her hand or possibly sets the house on fire.
Leaves toys out in the rain The toys rust or are stolen.

Sometimes, natural consequences don’t work and there are a few rules of thumb you can use to decide if you need to interject alternate, but still logical, consequences:

  • If you interfere with a natural consequence it will not work. For example, by fixing a later meal after your child refuses to eat dinner, you will stop the natural consequence of hunger. You are also encouraging the unacceptable behavior by responding with special attention. Similarly, by forcing your child to wear a coat, she will not experience the natural consequence of being cold.
  • Your child’s misbehavior can be encouraged by a natural consequence. For instance, shoplifting without being caught results in free clothes.
  • Something you see as unpleasant, like cold hands, may not matter to your children.
  • The natural consequence may be too dangerous. Never allow the natural consequence to endanger the health and safety of your child. For example, playing with matches may lead to a fire.

Natural consequences only work if they are undesirable to your child and you do not interfere!! 

Coming up with alternate, logical consequences, can take some creativity at times. I found some helpful examples here.

You Break It –You Fix It
Children take some responsibility for fixing, as best they can, any problem or mess they have created. Some examples:

  • One child accidentally knocks into another on the playground. She stops, apologizes and offers to help the other child get up.
  • A student knocks over a tray of food carried by another student. He helps clean it up and perhaps offers to go back and get new food.
  • A child hurts the feelings of another. She participates in “an apology of action” by writing a note, including the hurt child in a friendly activity
  • A student is part of a conflict. The students involved participate in a conflict resolution process.
  • A student wastes class time talking to a friend, looking out the window, trying to avoid the task. He makes up the time at another point during the day.

Loss of Privilege
In classrooms in which children help generate and construct the rules together, a sense of shared responsibility and trust exists. When students do not “take care of the rules,” the logical consequence might be to lose a privilege. Examples:

  • A student waves scissors around. She loses the use of the scissors for the remainder of the art period.
  • Two children talk instead of working. They have to sit by themselves.
  • A child rocks his chair or sits way back in his chair. He sits on the floor or stands for the remainder of the lesson or activity.
  • A student plays unsafely on an outdoor structure. She has to choose a different area of the playground to use during the rest of that recess.
  • A student speaks rudely to the teacher. The teacher refuses to listen to her until she changes her tone of voice.
  • A student rolls his eyes or calls out during a morning meeting. He has to leave the group.
  • A student fools around on line. She has to walk with the teacher.
  • A student logs on to an acceptable Web site while doing research. He loses computer time for the rest of the period (or week).
  • Students go to the bathroom to gossip about classmates. They lose the privilege of going to the bathroom together or without an adult for the next couple of days.

Time-Out or Take a Break
A student who is on the verge of losing control and beginning to disrupt and disturb their own and others’ ability to learn is asked to leave the scene and “take a break.” The student may return when he or she appears to have regained controls and is ready to participate in a positive way. Time out might be instituted when a student

  • whispers to a neighbor while another student is sharing information.
  • ignores the quiet signal.
  • calls out answers, denying others the chance to think.
  • makes a snide remark about another student’s response to a question.
  • persists in argument or negotiation with the teacher after clearly being told to stop.
  • whips the ball when the instructions are for underhand throws.


I also want to share the concept of delayed consequences that I know from Love and Logic. The idea behind delayed consequences is to purposely hold off on determining (or at least declaring) the consequence for a behavior. This will work with children who are capable of remembering that they have a punishment coming. It would not be ideal for a toddler because they are too young to comprehend the delay.

When a child does something inappropriate, tell them that you will “talk to them about their punishment later” and tell them “not to worry too much about it now.”

 Then add an evil laugh right after (Muuuaaahhhhaaahhaa!). Just kidding, but it is sort of implied!! 🙂

The Love and Logic Institute describes the Problems with Immediate Consequences:

1. Most of us have great difficulty thinking of an immediate consequence while we are teaching.

2. We “own” the problem rather than handing it back to the child. In other words, we are forced to do more thinking than the child.

3. We are forced to react while we and the child are upset.
4. We don’t have time to anticipate how the child, his/her parents, our administrators, and others will react to our response.
5. We don’t have time to put together a reasonable plan and a support team to help us carry it out.
6. We often end up making threats we can’t back up.
7. We generally fail to deliver a strong dose of empathy before providing the consequences.
8. Every day we live in fear that some kid will do something that we won’t know how to handle with an immediate consequence.

So, if you are not sure about what natural or logical consequence you want to use immediately when the inappropriate behavior is identified, then use this idea of delayed consequences. It will give you time to come up with something just right and still have a little fun! 🙂


Book coverGrounded for Life?! is for parents who feel responsible for their teen’s hair, clothes, bedroom, grades, and behavior. Tracy offers a process for parenting that helps parents distinguish the important issues for healthy teen growth. As a mother of six and a longtime middle-school counselor, Tracy shows you how to communicate effectively with teens.

Book CoverGo to Your Room!: Consequences That Teach tells you why many consequences don’t work and how to start selecting ones that will help your child learn to do better next time.

The New Approach to Discipline:  Logical ConsequencesThe New Approach to Discipline

Also check out the Love and Logic website for a host of resources for children of all ages, parents, and educators!


Coming up with logical consequences can be difficult sometimes. If you have some creative ideas to share, or a behavior you need help with in determining a consequence, please share!

You May Also Like:

Ask “What Hasn’t Changed?”

Reaching Potential Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Five Qualities of a Good Child Therapist

Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

4 thoughts on “Determining Natural Consequences for Inappropriate/Unwanted Behaviors”

  1. I think consequences should definitely be related and natural. If it’s unrelated, there really isn’t that much to learn. Like, if the kid didn’t clean up their room, that meant that they couldn’t go to a party. Other than being punished, the consequence really has nothing to do with not getting the room cleaned.

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