How Logical Consequences Are Different From Punishment

A student doodles during class instead of completing their assignment. Classmates shove each other as they get in line for recess. Between periods, a group of students runs down the hall to get to class. A student talks over a teacher’s instructions. Do any, or perhaps all, of these situations sound familiar to you? Most teachers have run into at least one of these issues before, and so are familiar with the sense of frustration and even anger that can accompany this kind of misbehavior. In the moment, an educator has two options for a response:

  1. They can enforce compliance through punishment. 
  2. They can teach students to build internal controls and learn socially responsible behaviors through logical consequences.


What Are Logical Consequences?

Logical consequences are an effective way to respond to misbehavior in the moment. For that reason, they are an important element of the Responsive Classroom approach to discipline. Unlike punishment, logical consequences are respectful of the child, realistic for the child (and teacher) to accomplish, and related in a way that allows the child to take responsibility for their actions and learn socially responsible behaviors. 


The three types of logical consequences used in the Responsive Classroom approach are:

  • Loss of privilege, which can be used when a student’s behavior does not meet preestablished expectations. The student loses the opportunity to participate in an activity or use a tool or material that is related to the misbehavior for a brief period of time. 
    •  For example, if a group of students continues to talk instead of completing their group project, a logical consequence would be for the students to complete their part of the assignment independently.
  • Break It, Fix It is used in situations when something has been broken or a mess has been made, either accidentally or intentionally. The student responsible for the mistake takes responsibility for fixing it.
    • For example, if a student rushes to be first to the whiteboards and grabs a whiteboard from the bottom of the stack, causing all the other whiteboards to fall to the floor, a logical consequence would be for the student to clean up the whiteboards and then allow the other students to get their whiteboards first. 
  • Positive time-out (elementary school) is used in an elementary school setting when a teacher believes that a student needs a way to calm down and regroup—or the student feels that way. The student moves to a designated calming space in the classroom, takes a moment to regain self-control, and then rejoins the class. Time-out is used before a behavior escalates, making it easier for students to regain control.
    • For example, if a student calls out an answer just as the student who was called on is about to respond, a logical consequence would be for the student to be directed to a designated space for a brief time to regain self-control before rejoining the group.
  • Space and Time (middle school) is used in a middle school setting as a strategy to help students regain self-control and practice calming themselves. This strategy gives students an opportunity to have space to pause and redirect their energy toward a responsible course of action. Similar to a time-out, Space and Time is used before a behavior escalates, making it easier for students to regain control. 
    • For example, if a student shows signs of being frustrated during an activity, a logical consequence would be for the student to go to one of the areas of the room designated for Space and Time for a few minutes to regroup before rejoining the class.


How Do Logical Consequences Differ From Punishment?

It can sometimes be tricky to know if a response to misbehavior is a punishment or a logical consequence. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Logical consequences are respectful of the student’s dignity, while punishment often calls upon an element of shame. The teacher’s words, tone, and body language are key pieces in distinguishing logical consequences from punishment.
  • Logical consequences are related to the student’s behavior, while punishment is usually not. The teacher pauses to gather more information before reacting. 
  • The goal of punishment is to enforce compliance with the rules by using external controls or authoritarian discipline. While effective in the moment, punishment often leads to feelings of anger and resentment and does little to increase student responsibility.
  • The goal of logical consequences is to help students develop internal controls and an understanding of socially responsible behaviors, learn from their mistakes, and develop a desire to follow the rules.

The underlying belief behind punishment is that students will only do better because they fear punishment and want to avoid it, whereas with logical consequences the underlying belief is that students have the ability to do better and want to and can do better.

You can find out more about logical consequences in Teaching Self-Discipline and Seeing the Good in Students

Jane Cofie is the director of curriculum and instruction for Center for Responsive Schools and the author of the book Strengthening the Parent-Teacher Partnership.