Parenting with Natural Consequences

Parents often get tired of telling their children what to do and how to live their lives. Not only does this become overwhelming, but it is also less effective than allowing your child to learn from their experiences and mistakes. Overprotective parents often prevent their children from learning how to bounce back from failure or how to learn to make better choices down the road.  Allowing children to instead experience the natural consequences of their actions teaches how to make choices and be responsible. In essence, they are choosing the consequences of their own decisions.

Natural consequences are the inevitable result of a child’s own actions. It is important that the child is responsible for their own choices and that the consequences not be administered by the parent. You as a parent are simply stepping back and letting their experience the consequence of their actions.  The following are some examples of how these may be implemented:

  • Despite dad’s urging, Susan did not bring her clothes to the laundry room to be washed. As a result, Susan does not have clean clothes to wear to school.
  • Against mom’s warnings, Tim left his favorite toy out where his 2-year-old brother would be able to play with it. Tim’s brother broke the toy while he was trying to play with it. As a result, Tim’s favorite toy is now broken.
  • Mom has repeatedly suggested, John practice the piano each day before his next piano lesson. John refused to practice and instead played video games with his friends. As a result, John was not prepared for his piano lesson, got in trouble by his piano teacher, and was not able to play in an upcoming piano recital.
  • Allow your child to spend his money as soon as he earns it, consequence is that he’ll run out of money and won’t have the money to participate in another activity that comes along later.
  • Allow a 7-year-old to cheat at a board game with his sister, consequence is that his sister won’t play board games with him anymore.

When using natural consequences, it is important to keep the following in mind.

  1. Is the consequence safe? If the consequence is not safe for the child to experience, then it is clearly the parent’s responsibility to intervene and protect their child.  Also, parents need to determine if they are willing to allow the consequence to occur (you may not be willing to let your children ruin their expensive dress shoes out in the mud to teach them a lesson).
  2. Is the consequence age appropriate?  Children under 3 will have a much harder time understanding the consequences of their actions than an older child and will likely need more parental protection from their actions.
  3. Be firm in the consequence.  As long as the consequence is safe and you are willing to let it occur, don’t save your child from experiencing the consequence.  Remember, you are not punishing them.  This is done in a calm environment where you let them experience the consequence of their own choices.
  4. Use Empathy. For parents, empathy is the ability to put themselves in their child’s shoes and then respond accordingly. Using empathy includes: being aware of your child’s emotion, recognizing the emotion as teaching opportunity, listening to and validating your child’s feelings, and helping your child label their emotion.
  5. Help your child problem solve and set limits. Take the time to explain the consequences of your child’s choice and help them think of options on how they can best solve the current situation and chose different positive consequences in the future.
  6. Praise your child when they make good choices.  As soon as a child corrects a behavior and makes a better choice, make sure you reinforce it by praising them for their good choices.

Using natural consequences can be very effective in helping children learn how to make healthy choices and ultimately become more responsible adults.  Likewise, research has shown natural consequences are related with healthier child development and decreased parent child power struggles. The price your child pays today to learn about commitment, decision making, responsibility, and relationships is the cheapest it will ever be.  Today is the time to help your child learn through their experiences before the consequences of their decisions cost too much!

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