010 – Chapter 1, Part 6

Ways Children Learn (continued)

Consequences of Behavior

In the last few decades, a lot has been written about the impact on children from the consequences of how they behave. In the 1960’s many people allowed children to experience the natural consequences of their behavior, just as happens daily in the “real world.” Unfortunately this whole idea led some parents to take a hands-off approach and “let children learn from their own mistakes.” In some situations this may make sense, but carried to extremes, it can lead to real problems. As a clear, if rather grim example, imagine deciding that your child should learn not to run into a busy street by experiencing the natural consequence of doing so.

Recognizing such shortcomings, some child-development specialists recommend an alternative that they referred to as logical consequences. This approach relies on matching consequences to specific behaviors. It requires adults to guide children by showing them how their behavior causes problems and by choosing consequences to fit the problem. For example, a child hits a baseball and breaks a window. The logical consequence would depend upon the child’s age. A five-year-old might be expected to hold the dustpan for the parent sweeping up the glass while a 16-year-old might be expected with supervision to buy and replace the glass. Here focus is not on criticizing the child but rather on the broken window and on the responsibility of those involved to make repairs. Blame is neither constructive nor necessary. While this approach has much to recommend it, one major drawback is that it typically involves waiting for a mistake to happen so that the child can learn from it.

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If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.

                                                          ~Haim Ginott

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A more proactive approach involves planning consequences so that children are encouraged to behave appropriately in the first place, rather than waiting for them to misbehave and then reacting negatively in hopes of decreasing that behavior. For example, a mother aware that her seven-year-old daughter is struggling with arithmetic might tell her that when she completes five problems the two of them can take a break together and play for five minutes.

The concept of planning consequences for children’s behavior, which also serve as the basis for my entire approach, is based on the following:

  • To develop responsibly, children need and benefit from adult help.
  • Waiting for failures to occur is not a very useful way to teach children to be responsible for themselves.
  • Adult help can best be provided in a thoughtful, planned, proactive fashion that emphasizes the benefits of success.


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