Inside this post: What natural consequences mean and why you should allow them to occur in your children’s lives to help prevent power struggles.
You hear people talk about it, natural consequences, but what exactly are they?
In this article, I’ll explain what natural consequences entail and why it’s important to let your children face them.
I’ll also touch base on when you should create a logical consequence if the natural consequence is moot.
The thing is, children do need to be protected from the big world, but they also need to realize that it’s tough out there, and failing at something is really the best way to learn a lesson.
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What are natural consequences?
A natural consequence occurs as a result of a child’s action, without the interference of an adult.
For example, if a child doesn’t want to wear a rain coat and its raining outside, they will get wet. This is a natural consequence.
Natural consequences are most effective when adults don’t add extra blame and shame by adding an “I told you that would happen” when your child is going through the natural consequence.
I mean, don’t children feel pretty darn bad already that they didn’t listen, didn’t put on the raincoat and got soaking wet? Do you NEED to add to their disappointment in themselves when they made a mistake?
Hey, we are all human and we all make mistakes.
Additionally, when you do shame the child for making the mistake, they get on the defensive and focus on being angrier with you for shaming than for learning the lesson from the consequence.
Instead, a good way to connect with your child when they make a mistake and are facing a natural consequence is to show empathy and understanding, and you’ll get gratitude from them instead of attitude!
When you allow a natural consequence to occur, you’re not rescuing your child from the situation by interfering and fixing the problem, you are allowing room for the mistake to happen, and that is one of the hardest things to do as a parent.
Do natural consequences work?
Yes! Natural consequences are an effective parenting strategy because the consequence is closely related to the behaviour and this allows the child to learn what happens when they do not behave in the way the parent expected.
This also separates the action from the child and doesn’t shame or punish the child.
Natural consequences allow your children to make their own choices in a calm and non-judgemental environment.
These types of consequences help children to be responsible for their own actions.
While the consequnces are effective, they also present challenges for the parents. Parents must have an appropriate response in their pocket for such situations.
Parents must also refrain from saving the child from their consequence and sometimes the consequence takes time to be experienced and doesn’t always work the first time.
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How To Use Natural Consequences
When your child misbehaves or is just not following directions, natural consequences are a great way to teach your child some lessons!
1. Find Out Why
If your child is not listening, try to figure out the reason for this. Children really only misbehave when they want your attention if they feel inadequate, or is a need hasn’t been met such as hunger.
If you can identify the reason for the misbehavior you can correct the action.
Let’s take a 4-year-old who is watching a show. Mom calls the child and says it’s time to go pick up your siblings from school and tells the child there are 5 minutes left before he TV gets turned off and shoes must be put on for the outing.
At one minute before it is time to leave, mom reminds the child that it is almost time to go.
The child is still watching TV, without paying any attention to his mother.
2. Decide whose problem it is
Sometimes the child is the only one affected by this problem, and when this happens you should allow whatever will happen, to happen. If the consequence is not dangerous then you can not interfere.
In the case above, when the child will not turn off the TV and put on his shoes, this is now the Mothers problem, not the child.
In order for a natural consequence to occur, the child should be the only one affected by it, it is after all the child who is misbehaving.
So in this case, the Mother can pick the child up without shoes and put the child into the car. The TV can be left on, and the child will have no shoes on because he did not complete the task of turning off the tv and putting on the shoes.
If the other siblings would like to stop at the park after school, then the child without shoes would not be able to participate.
This is a quick lesson for the child to put on shoes when Mom says it’s time.
The Mom did not suffer from these consequences because she was able to get the child into the car on time, which was the goal in the first place.
3. Provide Choice
If you are trying to get your child to behave in a certain manner, the best way to do so is to offer some choices.
Ensure that the choices you offer are reasonable and not harmful to the child.
In the example with the child watching TV and not putting on the shoes before leaving the home, the Mother could provide a choice to the child to either put the shoes on or get put into the car without shoes.
Keep in mind that the consequence is coming from the decision that your child made, not one you made for them.
4. Be ok with their decision
Once your child chooses their action, try not to talk them out of it. This is important when you are just starting to use this consequence style.
When a child is always used to getting his way by misbehaving, they may try to do the same when making the choice for their consequence.
For example with our child who did not put on his shoes, the Mom can respond with “I see you have decided not to put on your shoes, it’s time to go now.” The Mom can calmly take the child and put the child in the car without his shoes.
The child may be really unhappy with this, but this is now the job of the Mother to stay calm (not easy!) and remind the child that this was a choice they made.
5. Discuss the choices with your child
When a child is offered a choice rather than a warning, a power struggle can be avoided. Even though the warning and the choice could have the same outcome, the choice is positive, and the warning is negative, and this is a big difference!
In our case with the child who did not put on his shoes, the Mom could have said to the child initially ” I need you to turn off the TV and put on your shoes. If you put on your shoes maybe you can join your siblings at the park. I know you love your show, but we can watch it again another time.”
6. Praise your child for good behavior
when your child corrected the behavior, let them know that was a great decision!
Most people respond a lot better to praise rather than criticism and sometimes this is the only way to let your child aware of the fact your expectations were met.
If a few days later, the child who did not put on his shoes was faced with another decision. The mother told the child it was time to pop into the shop for some dinner ingredients, and if the child wanted to help with the shopping, he would put on the shoes.
When the child pops up off the couch and puts on the shoes the Mother can then praise the child. “Wow! I love the fast response, I’m proud of you for putting on your shoes.”
Choosing Effective Logical Consequences
When natural consequences are not available, the parent should then respond with a logical consequence.
Logical consequences are created by the adult and are experienced by the child as a direct result of the misbehavior.
In order for a logical consequence to be effective, the behaviour has to be directly related so that the child can make the connection from the behaviour to the consequence.
Logical consequences are related to the Behavior in question
It is important that the consequence that a parent chooses is directly related to the behavior.
For example, if the grass in the yard is getting long and needs to be cut but it is littered with toys, the parents can address the issue in a positive way with a logical consequence of having the toys taken away and put into the garbage.
If the parent was going to punish the child without using a logical consequence in this situation, the parent may advise the child in an angry tone that they are going to lose all their toys in the yard and forget about screen time in the afternoon if the toys don’t get picked up right away.
Screen time being taken away has no direct relationship to having toys littered all over the yard, and thus, this type of negative punishment is not effective.
Related: The Drawbacks of Negative Punishment
There is no judgement in a logical consequence
When a child is shamed for making the wrong decision, they will likely feel sad and not really remember the reason for their consequence because they are focusing on the feeling.
If a parent gets raging upset that a child used something of theirs and broke/lost it, the child might be scared to confess to the situation in the first place, and when they do confess to it, and the parent says something like “You are not allowed to use anything of mine ever again!” the child’s heart is instantly crushed.
A good way for parents to handle the situation is to stay calm and ask the child if they have any way of replacing the lost/broken item or another solution that may help the situation.
Logical consequences are not for past and present behavior
When choosing a logical consequence, it’s not a good idea to punish the child for the current misbehavior plus one more from the past.
For example, if the child is in trouble for forgetting to feed the cat, then the logical consequence should be that the responsibility for feeding the cat is no longer theirs until they are old enough and ready for it.
However, if the child is in trouble for forgetting to feed the cat and the parent says you may never play with the cat again because clearly you don’t care about him since you forget to feed him all the time, then this punishment is not really logical.
This response also mentions past behavior, and is really not helpful or relevant at all.
Logical consequences are presented calmly
When you find your children not getting along well while you’re busy making supper, it is not logical to go over to them and start yelling at them to get along.
It is also not logical to take something away from all the kids when they have a sibling squabble.
A good way to handle the situation is in a calm manner. Tell the siblings that supper is going to be ready soon but all the yelling and disagreement is disturbing. If they don’t want their dinner ruined they can either play nicely together or go to separate rooms until supper is ready.
The line between consequence and punishment can be a thin one at times but the tone of voice and the presentation of the consequence matters a lot.
If the consequence you are presenting is logical but it is presented in an angry tone of voice with a threatening message to the child, it is still a punishment, even though it should be a consequence.
Giving out consequences in anger just leads to resentment and anger towards the parent and no one wants that.
Tired Mom Supermom uses personal experiences and research to help you in your parenting journey. Tired mom supermom is not a psychologist and you should seek professional help and advice if you are having difficulties with raising your children.