In parenting, and in many other aspects of life, there is a distinct difference between punishment and consequences. Logical consequences are the natural result of behavior. For example, if one decides to rob a store, there are several logical consequences. One consequence is that one breaks the law, another is that the store is robbed. Punishment is outside of consequences. The robber who gets caught faces punishment for his actions. They are not the natural consequences of his actions, but instead are additional things, like prison time, that he may face as a result.
In parenting, many child development experts now assert that helping to correct behavior through understanding consequences is quite different than punishing children in the hopes they will behave in future. A child, who refuses to do his homework, may be made to do his homework as a logical consequence. A child who loses privileges for not doing his homework is being punished. Forcing a kid to do the homework is not a punishment. Taking away TV privileges is not a consequence.
Some parents, however, try to define some punishments to be consequences. For example, a house rule might be that homework must be done before watching TV. Thus the consequence of not doing homework might mean the child doesn’t get to watch TV. This quickly becomes punishment if other privileges are also taken away, or if the child is given time outs or put on restriction. In order to stay within the logical consequence model, a clear relationship must be established between the behavior and the consequences of the behavior.
Even more logical is asking children to clean up after themselves. Again the consequence of a child messing up his room is that he must clean it. This is not punishment. A punishment for a child messing up the room would have nothing to do with the actual act. A child who has toys taken away because he messed up his room is not witnessing the consequence of his behavior, but being punished for his behavior.
The theory behind using punishment rather than consequences is that punishment quickly ends an undesirable behavior. Those who argue for discipline using logical consequences suggest however, that using consequences instead of punishment helps a child understand the next logical step when making a good or a poor choice.
Theorists argue that when children realize naturally that the result of totally messing up their room is spending lots of time cleaning it up, they will gradually begin to think before they act. The child reluctant to do homework will realize he or she must do it even if there is a fight about it. Further, he or she doesn’t get to watch TV until it is completed.
Using logical consequences rather than punishment is a gradual process. Not all children may learn to look before they leap. In fact, some children may be motivated by negative attention to continue to behave badly. If each time the child gets a nice little chat with the teacher or parent, then this may actually reinforce behavior, because the chat is a consequence. Some logical consequences are clearly very dangerous, such as allowing a child to get too close to an oven, so he or she will learn it is hot.
However, it is also clear from the rate of overpopulated prisons, that punishment is not always effective at stopping people from committing more crimes. The rate of prison recidivism is dauntingly high, leading many to believe that punishment-based discipline seems to prove ineffective with many adults. Some programs in prisons help to address the consequence of behavior. For example, victims or relatives of victims may sit down with a person who hurt them and help them understand how the crime affected them. These programs have been shown to be thought provoking and sometimes life changing for people who have committed serious crimes, by simply showing them the consequences of their actions.