Punishment vs. Logical Consequences

Logical consequences are directly related to children’s behaviors and help them to fix their mistakes.

The use of logical consequences is one part of an approach to discipline used in the Responsive Classroom. It’s a powerful way of responding to children’s misbehavior that not only is effective in stopping the behavior but is respectful of children and helps them to take responsibility for their actions.

Teachers often ask, “How are logical consequences any different from punishment?” It is a critical question because there are some basic and important diffrences between the two—differences that must be understood in order to use logical consequences well. Take the following example:

Six-year-old Jacob is zooming around the classroom when suddenly he trips and falls into Michelle’s block building. Michelle lets out a scream and the teacher comes over.

Using punishment

This first scenario involves a teacher who uses punishment. Feeling irritated, the teacher looks at Jacob and says loudly in front of the other children, “I have told you over and over again not to run in this classroom. Now see what you’ve done with your carelessness. Go sit in that chair and don’t move until it’s time for lunch.”

What might be going on for Jacob? He might be thinking, “I wasn’t even running. The teacher doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She’s always picking on me. Now everybody’s looking at me. I hate this school. It was a stupid building anyway.”

Now, here’s what might happen with a teacher who uses logical consequences. The teacher, although also feeling irritated, takes a deep breath and makes herself begin by describing what she sees: “Michelle is very upset right now because Jacob knocked over her building. I need to talk with Jacob first and then we’ll figure out how to help Michelle.”

The teacher takes Jacob aside and begins by asking him a question.

“What happened?”

“I just tripped and fell into it accidentally. I didn’t mean to knock it over.”

“Hmmm. So it was an accident. I did notice that you were running before it happened. Could that have been why you fell?”


“When kids run in the classroom, accidents often happen. That’s why our rule says to be safe. What do you think you could do to help Michelle?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe she would like some help putting the building back up.”

Jacob nods and the teacher walks back with him to the block area. Michelle accepts Jacob’s offer to help and together they build for the rest of the period.

Now, what might be going on for Jacob? He might be learning, “When I knock things down I have to help build them back up. I can fix things when I mess up. My teacher helps me solve problems. I have to remember to walk in the block area.”

Here are some of the fundamental differences in the two approaches:

The goal of punishment is to enforce compliance with the rules by using external controls or authoritarian discipline.
  • While effective in stopping the misbehavior of the moment, punishment does little to increase student responsibility.
  • Punishment often leads to feelings of anger, discouragement and resentment, and an increase in evasion and deception.
The goal of logical consequences is to help children develop internal understanding, self-control, and a desire to follow the rules.
  • Logical consequences help children look more closely at their behaviors and consider the results of their choices.
  • Unlike punishment, where the intention is to make a child feel shamed, the intention of logical consequences is to help children develop internal controls and to learn from their mistakes in a supportive atmosphere.
Logical consequences are respectful of the child’s dignity while punishment often calls upon an element of shame.
  • Logical consequences respond to the misbehavior in ways that preserve the dignity of the child. The message is that the behavior is a problem, not that the child is a problem.
  • The teacher’s tone of voice is critical in distinguishing logical consequences from punishment. There are many ways to say to a child that they’ve spilled their juice and should clean it up. If the tone is angry or punitive, then it’s no longer a logical consequence.
  • The same consequence can be respectful in one situation and demeaning in another. Mopping the floor is a respectful consequence for the child who chooses to have a water fight at the drinking fountain, but not for the child who fails to complete his work.
Logical consequences are related to the child’s behavior; punishment usually is not.
  • Leaving the group is related to being disruptive in a group; missing recess is not. Cleaning up graffiti on the bathroom wall is related to drawing the graffiti on the wall; being suspended from school is not.
  • Logical consequences require that the teacher gather more information before reacting. The teacher takes time to assess the situation and determine, sometimes with input from the child, what will help fix the problem.
  • Here are a few questions teachers might ask themselves when trying to assess a situation:

What are the developmental issues at work here?
Is it clear to the child what is expected?
What rule is being broken?
What problem is the behavior creating?
What will help to solve the problem?

The belief underlying the use of logical consequences is that with reflection and practice children will want to do better, whereas the belief behind punishment is that children will do better only because they fear punishment and will seek to avoid it.
  • Teachers using logical consequences begin with a belief in the basic goodness of children and the knowledge that every child is a learner, struggling to establish meaningful relationships with us, each other, and the school community.
  • These teachers expect that all children will from time to time lose their control and make mistakes.
  • The use of logical consequences helps children fix their mistakes and know what to do next time.

Teachers frequently ask, “Is it ever okay for a child to feel bad about their behavior?” Of course it is. When children misbehave, chances are they already feel bad. Our job is not to make them feel worse but to help them choose a better course of action the next time.

As Ruth Sidney Charney says in Teaching Children to Care, “Our goal, when children break rules, is never to make them feel ‘bad’ or defeated, although they may, in fact, feel bad. Our goal is first to help them recover self-control and self-respect. When I observe a child acting the part of the bully, or sneaking out of a job, or putting down a classmate or teacher, it is not a picture of self-control and self-respect. It is a sign of distress and a signal for help. Something needs to stop. The use of logical consequences urges respect for the rules and the people they are designed to guide.”

Responsive Classroom Newsletter: August 1998

Tags: Challenging Behaviors, Logical Consequences, Misbehavior

57 Replies to “Punishment vs. Logical Consequences”

  • I realize this article is old, but I am trying hard to find effective methods for my children’s teachers to handle excessive talking in their classrooms. Four out of six teachers we have encountered believe it is best to make their students walk laps. This is against our county and state policy and yet it continues. I use to teach and never once did I think, “waking laps will fix this problem”. I want to be able to make helpful suggestions, however I am currently at a loss since it is not my classroom. Please help.

    • Logical consequences are so important and are an excellent alternative to punishment/punitive responses. I’d recommend bringing this article (and others we have on classroom management and discipline) to the attention of those teachers and school administrators. They may not realize that there is a better way to get the results they are looking for. Please also feel free to refer them to our website for more information or have them give us a call to discuss options for professional development that would provide their educators with more effective skills/practices.

    • Logical is better than out right punishment as the child will better and accepted and accept the offer of help by the teacher. Thanks

  • What would be a logical consequence for a child who talks and interrupts? If I move the child, then the child plays with materials such as pencils and erasers and breaks them. I teach in a poor community. It is unreasonable to expect the child aka the child’s parents to keep replacing pencils and erasers, etc. Not every child comes with supplies to school. I can not afford to keep replacing materials that a child breaks and yet is unable/unwilling to replace. Please help!

    • With parental permission (presuming the supplies in question aren’t the classroom’s), you may consider setting the expectation that keeping pencils at the child’s desk is a privilege, and you will keep them until the student needs to use them. If they can’t be safe with the pencils, it’s a logical consequence that they lose access. That said, if the student is fidgeting, they probably need that sensory stimulation, and you should find an alternative for them to play with that’s less disruptive.

    • Talking and interrupting is often a sign that the child’s mind is going ahead of the current discussion. This is not always a bad thing. We want children to be good thinkers. When I have a student like that, I give them a parking lot journal. Whenever they have an idea to share that was not on topic, they quickly jot it down in the journal- they “park” the idea and we talk about their thoughts at a more appropriate time.

      • I love this idea . A personal journal that allows the student to still be heard , but teaching the right time and teaching to respect the ideas and learning paces of others ( how to work in the community of learners )

      • Love this idea, but wondering what you could do for kindergarten students with blurting out

        • At times I have difficulty with 8th grade special education students who want to talk to each other at constant rate. After 21 years of teaching I have learned that yes you can have sayings to get their attention, procedures, routines, etc but the most important key is to tell a story about well…anything that gets their attention. Once you have them the make a slight turn into the lesson, assignment, etc. I’ve observed teachers struggle and teachers thrive time and time again. The teachers that strive were all good story tellers. Just my opinion, have a great rest of your year.

  • I agree with most of this article. I especially believe that it applies well to elementary aged children. In middle school there are other requirements. I think that middle schoolers who did not learn self control in elementary school need to be strongly reminded to learn how to control their own behavior. Also, since I have 190 kids per day in middle school, it is not always practical or possible to have a one on one interaction with a student. Often I will speak to them after class, but I have to stop a negative behavior immediately so that the class is is not hijacked by one student.

    • I work with the little ones so I believe that is part of what I am teaching. Basic following directions, taking turns etc… they are so young and this is such a new concept. I am constantly reviewing procedures.

  • I have followed responsive classroom/logical consequences for a while now, but my personal children’s School says the are a responsive classroom…. but I am concerned to see daily recesses taken away when the children don’t know what they did, a system of checks or x’s throughout the day to decide who gets recess, and other habits that don’t seem inline?
    My children come home never knowing what they’ve done wrong, but knowing they missed a lot of recess or other privileges. Does a responsive classroom punish the whole class for the misbehavior of 2-3 students? Do you ever suggest group punishment?

  • We have a new principal this year. He is very logical when it comes to consequences for their misbehavior. For instance, if they draw on the wall or desks; they must scrub it off. If they pour out their drinks at lunch, they must mop the floors. Trash the bus? They sweep out the busses. So far, this has been an effective way to get their attention and not do it again.

    • When you have followed the progression of consequences and they have not brought about change, then the student must
      be moved to the next tier…sent out of class, perhaps in school detention.

  • There are several factors that indicate when the consequence becomes punishment. The first relates to if the child understands and perceives the consequence as a positive or negative experience. The consequence is a positive, if the purpose is if it is an opportunity for the child to learn and understand the effects of their behavior and what alternative behavior is expected. Does the consequence focus on what behavior is expected, or on the inappropriate behavior. Is the child’s treated with respect and dignity or is the consequence intended to induce shame or fear. Along with the Responsive Classroom resources, another great resource for teaching (discipline) is the book No Drama Discipline. I believe it incorporates many of the attributes of Responsive Discipline, Grit, and Growth Mindset.

  • How do you teach middle schoolers to be prepared for class? My son has loaned pencils to everyone then when he got to next class the teacher made him remove a shoe in front of the whole class and they all laughed at him. He was upset about it . What is a better way to get kids to remember to return borrowed items. All of the teachers at my school do this and they say it works but at what cost?
    Help with ideas to propose to them.

Comments are closed.