Friday, February 24, 2012

52 Tool Cards: Logical Consequences

Yesterday C and I went shopping at Jo-Ann.  She was drawn to an end-cap display of spring and Easter decorations.  I reminded her of our rule to look with her eyes but do not touch.  I suggested she could put her hands behind her back to help her remember not to touch.

Hands behind her back, she continued looking for a few moments.  Then she started pointing something out to me.  "Can we put this on our list?" she asked, and reached out to grab the object.

I again reminded her to look but not touch.  As she quickly withdrew her hand, she knocked over a nearby item, which fell to the hard floor.  It was a blue flocked resin bird figurine, and the tip of its beak and some of the yellow paint chipped off as a result of the fall.

I quickly decided the logical consequence of "you break it, you buy it" applied in this case.  The little bird was on sale for $2.79.  I told C she would have to pay me back for some of the cost out of her piggy bank (she's been receiving a small weekly  when-I-remember-to-give-it allowance of $0.50 whatever spare change is in my purse since Christmas)

When we got home, we counted out $1.00 in change from the piggy bank.  I'm the parent and could have moved her away from the display earlier or even had her in a cart instead of walking in the store, so it's only fair that I bear a significant portion of the cost.  Also, I don't think she had as much as $2.79 in her piggy bank, and it seemed too severe to wipe out all of her savings.

Still, Jane Nelsen's words about logical consequences give me pause.  She writes:
Too often logical consequences are poorly disguised punishments.

So, what's the difference between a logical consequence and a punishment?  Did making C pay for part of the cost of the broken bird figurine constitute the former or the latter?  Does it matter in making these distinctions that she is only three and a half?

According to the pamphlet Discipline and Punishment: What is the Difference? published by Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE):

The purpose of punishment is to stop a child from doing what you don’t want—and using a painful or unpleasant method to stop him.

The VCE pamphlet uses the word punishment as a broad category that includes logical consequences:
There are basically four kinds of punishment:
• physical punishment ‑ slapping, spanking, switching, paddling, and using a belt or hair brush.
• verbal punishment ‑ shaming, ridiculing, using cruel words, saying “I don’t love you.”
• withholding rewards ‑ “You can’t watch TV if you don’t do your homework.”
• penalties ‑ “You broke the window so you will have to pay for it with money from your allowance.” 
By that definition, making C pay for part of the broken figurine was a penalty and therefore a punishment, albeit one of the two of the four that "can be used either as effective discipline methods or as punishment—
depending on how parents administer them."

Logical consequences can be recognized by the four Rs:

  1. Related - The item was broken as a result of our actions and it was fair to purchase it to avoid making the store bear the cost of our mistake.
  2. Respectful -  I stated the consequence very matter-of-factly and didn't bring in any shaming or labeling words.  
  3. Reasonable - I thought $1.00 was reasonable compared to demanding the entire $2.79.
  4. Revealed in advance when possible - I made the decision to enforce this consequence on the spot, so it was not revealed in advance.
I think an important factor in deciding whether something is a logical consequence or a punishment is the spirit in which it is intended and delivered.  

If my goal was to "make C feel bad so she'd think twice about touching items at the store again," then it was a punishment and an ineffective one at that (it won't magically give her more impulse control than her brain has at this stage in her life).

However, that was not my goal at all in enforcing the consequence.  On the contrary, my goal was simply to teach C about taking responsibility for actions and how to make amends when mistakes are made.  It's not a lesson I expect to be "one and done," but part of a continuing effort to teach her proper social behavior and train her up in the way she should go.

As you can see, logical consequences are tricky to get right.  Perhaps that is why Jane Nelsen emphasizes that they should be used "rarely.  Instead, focus on solutions."

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