Natural and Logical Consequences

What are natural consequences?

Natural consequences are outcomes that happen as a result of behavior that are not planned or controlled (Pryor & Tollerud, 1999). For example, if a student cuts in front of another student in line, the natural consequence may be that the other child won’t play with the “cutter” at recess. A teacher did not plan or control this consequence, but he or she may discuss and help students predict natural consequences to encourage them to see the connection between their choices and what happens to them.

What are logical consequences?

Logical consequences do not naturally occur as a result of behavior, but are intentionally planned by teachers and administrators. Logical consequences are similar to what would happen to an adult in a similar situation, therefore teaching students skill that they will need to be successful later on in life. Logical consequences need to be related, respectful, and reasonable (Nelson, 1985).

  1. Related

    Related means that the consequence is clearly connected to the student’s behavior and its function. This requires the teacher getting to know his or her students well and becoming proficient at the process of both formal and informal functional behavioral assessment and analysis which is discussed in detail in another section of Special Connections. The function of the same behavior may be different for each child, or even for the same child at different times. Therefore, it is crucial that teachers take this into consideration and do not use one consequence, such as isolating the student from others, for all inappropriate behavior. An example of a consequence that is not related would be having a student go to time out for calling another student a name. A related consequence may be to have the student spend some of their free time (recess or after school) discussing the natural consequences of the action with the teacher (e.g. hurting that person’s feeling, possibly getting called a name back) and writing the offended student an apology.

  2. Respectful

    Consequences need to be given with empathy in a respectful voice tone. If not, the student will focus more on the feelings of the adult and perhaps their own feelings of anger resulting from being talked to disrespectfully and not reflecting on their choices. The student that is not treated respectfully often becomes aggressive, passive, resentful, and/or uncooperative and may try to get revenge against the teacher.

  3. Reasonable

    Reasonable refers to not providing consequences for a student’s inappropriate behavior that is too severe. It is not reasonable to require that a student lose all their recesses for the week for being silly in class or to lose the next month’s field trip for getting in a fight on the playground. A more reasonable consequence may be to stay in for one recess to practice appropriate classroom behavior

Is the philosophy of positive behavioral supports and interventions against the use of consequences?

Logical consequences are often confused with “punishment”. Punishment by definition is “the contingent presentation of a stimulus immediately following a response, which decreases the future rate and/or probability of the response” (Alberto and Troutman, 1990). Logically, teachers want the inappropriate behavior of students to decrease and have historically delivered negative consequences (e.g. verbal reprimands, writing sentences, seclusion, corporal punishment) to attempt to manage behavior which led to many ethical and legal considerations. In fact, many individuals who exhibit undesirable behavior have been subjected to contingent interventions that are dehumanizing and unethical. As a result, the term “punishment” has become associated with pain and humiliation and has become unacceptable to many leaders in the educational field. This has resulted in the development of the idea of “nonaversive” behavioral support upon which the positive behavioral support and intervention movement is based.

Talk to any classroom teacher or individual with hands on behavioral management experience and they will agree that not all inappropriate behavior can be decreased to acceptable levels by exclusively using proactive strategies and “positive” contingencies, although they do help immensely and should always be a part of any behavior management plan. It can be argued that the use of only “positive” contingencies does not mirror real life and therefore does not promote the generalization of appropriate behavior into non-school environments. The most effective behavioral management provides a balance of proactive strategies, positive contingencies, and natural and logical consequences that teach students to take responsibility for their behavioral choices and mirrors real life situations that they will be required to face as adults.

How are logical consequences different that the traditional idea of punishment?

The key difference between logical consequences and punishment goes back to the three R’s of logical consequences: related, respectful and reasonable. While the actual consequence may be the same in both situations, the way that the teacher presents it to the student and its relation to the inappropriate behavior is what determines whether it is considered punishment or a logical consequence. The following tables attempt to clarify the difference.

Table 1: Punishment vs. Logical Consequences: What’s the Difference

Logical Consequences




Leave the student with a feeling of control

Leaves the student feeling helpless

Uses thinking words

Uses fighting words

Provides choices within firm limits

Demands compliance

Are given with empathy

Is given with anger

Are tied to the time and place of the infraction

Is arbitrary

Are similar to what would happen to an adult in a comparable situation

Is arbitrary

Are never used to get revenge

May be used to get revenge (e.g. he had it coming!)

Teaches students to take responsibility for their choices

Results in the student focusing on the adult delivering the punishment rather than on their choices


Table 2: Examples of Punishment/Logical Consequences



Logical Consequence

Removal from the group or “time out”

“Go to time out until you can behave in group appropriately!”

“When you act silly in group is distracts me from teaching and others from learning. Would you like to stay with the group or go to the think time area where it is okay to make silly noises? It’s your decision.”

Stay in for recess

“If you don’t stop goofing round and get your math done, no recess for you!”

“This is the time I have scheduled to do math. It is very important that you get it done so you can learn as much as you can. Recess is the scheduled time to talk to your friends. You can choose to talk now, but the only other time to finish math is at recess. It’s your decision.”

Adapted from: Fay, J. (1996). Discipline with love and logic. Golden, CO: School Consultant Services

What are some logical consequences that teachers commonly use and have found to be effective?

The three forms of logical consequences that we have most commonly used in our experiences working with students with challenging behavior are wasted time, extra practice, and think time. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but will give an idea of how to go about providing logical consequences and some tools to work with. With each of these interventions, it is crucial that the student is not allowed to permanently escape work or environments they may find undesirable. Our policy is that a student is not allowed to leave school until all of their work was done. This minimizes reinforcing escape and avoidance behavior, since students are still held accountable for work completion. In addition, it is important to remember that the use of any logical consequences need to consider the function of the inappropriate behavior and be used in conjunction with other behavioral management strategies discussed in other sections of Special Connections such as preventative approaches, positive reinforcement, and self-management.

What is wasted time?

Wasted time is based on the idea that the teacher and the students in the classroom are learning partners, both having a very important job to do. The primary reason for attending school is to do these jobs and anything that interferes with anyone doing their best work is not accepted. This is discussed with the students at the beginning of the school year, stressing that each person (including the teacher) is responsible for making choices that ensure that everyone is successful. It is crucial that the students see a connection between school and what they want in life. This sets the stage for students understanding that their choices determine what happens to them both in and out of school and that the teacher is not doing something to them when they experience the logical and natural consequences of their decisions. If a student is making a choice that interferes with anyone’s job in the classroom, they are choosing to waste time. The teacher gives the student the choice to either stop the behavior that is interfering with the learning environment or continue knowing that their choice will result in a loss of free time later (e.g. “You can either start working quietly on your assignment in the next minute, or I will start keeping track of your wasted time.”) If the student chooses to continue the inappropriate behavior, the teacher keeps track of this wasted time (a basic stopwatch works very well). The student makes up the wasted time and any learning activities that took place during that time during their free time. Usually this occurs at recess or after school.

What it extra practice?

Extra practice is based on the idea that the teacher directly instructs and has students practice the behaviors that they are expected to exhibit in the classroom. After this instruction has taken place, if a student exhibits an inappropriate behavior, they are given the choice to choose to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. If they do not, the teacher assumes that he or she has forgotten the desired behavioral skill and needs practice. A remedial instruction and extra practice session is scheduled during the student’s free time. Usually this occurs at recess or after school. For example if a student is not walking down the hall appropriately the teacher might say, “I know we learned as a class about how to walk down the hall appropriately at the beginning of the school year. Have you forgotten how to do that?” If the student replies that they have not forgotten they are asked to please demonstrate the appropriate hall walking behavior. If they do not, the teacher may respond, “Your actions tell me that you have forgotten. Let’s schedule a time to practice. What works best for you, recess or after school?”

What is think time?

Think time is commonly used when a student is disturbing the learning of other students or the chain of inappropriate behavior needs to be broken by the student taking a break to think about his or her choices and their possible consequences. The student goes to the designated “think time” area away from the other students. The teacher problem solves with the student after a few minutes if the student is demonstrating that they are ready to problem solve appropriately (e.g. sitting quietly and appropriately, talking respectfully to the teacher). This is different than a “time out” because the purpose is not to give the student a “time out from reinforcement” which is the technical definition of a time out. Ron Nelson (1996) has developed a strategy that he calls “think time” which is similar, although not identical, to the strategy described here and has been shown to be effective in many situations.

References/Recommended Resources

Alberto, P.A., & Troutman, A.C. (1995). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (4th ed.).
Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Fay, J. (1996). Discipline with love and logic. Golden, CO: School
Consultant Services
Nelson, J. (1985). The three R’s of logical consequences, the three R’s of
punishment, and six steps for winning children over. Individual 
Psychology, 42, 161-165.
Nelson, J.R. (1996). Think Time Strategy for Schools. Longmont, CO:
Sopris West.
Pryor, D.B. & Tollerud, T.R. (1999). Applications of adlerian principles in
school settings. Professional School Counseling, 24, 299-304.