When our daughter was 12, money burned holes in her pockets. Rather than bail her out, or lecture, we let natural consequences do the talking. One summer our family headed west. It was a great trip, full of teachable moments. One example was every gift shop. “Remember to save your spending dollars for something special,” we’d say. Then she’d buy yet another soda.
Two weeks in Naomi watched her brother count out $25 for a polished geode, then begged us to help her buy one too. She had precisely one dollar. “You get spending money at the beginning of the week,” we said. “It’s up to you how you spend it.” We didn’t say, “I told you so,” but chose to allow the experiences that naturally follow a choice or behavior. Psychologists call this, “natural consequences;” we call it common sense. We all want to see our children learn and to do what is right. Learning comes best through experience and understanding; natural consequences are well suited to provide both. [Tweet This]
Here are some ideas when it comes to using natural consequences to teach our kids.
1. It’s important we understand what “natural consequence” means:
A simple definition is, “allowing the experiences that naturally follow a choice or behavior.” This is not mom or dad being punitive, adding a lecture for good measure, or ramping the consequence up a notch. Our daughter wasted her money, so she couldn’t afford what she wanted – end of story.
2. Natural consequences provide a “teachable moment” – don’t let that pass:
There’s a difference between a lecture/rant, and a couple of questions for clarification. For example, when I taught school, I often asked kids to make the connection with natural consequences themselves. “Fred, do you understand why you’re not at the ice cream social right now?” “I guess it’s because I still have to finish up these worksheets from earlier.” He’d been goofing off instead of learning; the work still needed completing. No lecture, just fact.
3. Natural consequences need to be modified if safety is at stake:
During that trip out west, we explored the rim of the Grand Canyon. I saw a dad tell his four-year-old not to climb the barricade. His little future base jumper wasn’t listening and started to duck under. The natural consequence was unthinkable, so dad did a great job explaining why junior was now restricted to “handheld at all times” status the rest of the outing. “There are two ways to stay safe,” dad said, “obeying daddy or holding daddy’s hand. You have chosen to hold my hand.” (Check out these ideas for 21 Creative Consequences)
4. Part of falling on their face is getting back on their feet – facilitating that is the parent’s responsibility, too:
Senior year of high school our daughter ran away from home for a few weeks. We knew where but she was 18. One day she called in sick (she really was) but the school needed a parent to verify. She was on the verge of failing the semester but I said she chose not to live at home so she was on her own. Later, when she came to her senses, we did all we could to help her succeed.
5. Don’t gloat when the natural consequence is hard – we support, hold up, and encourage:
When our daughter couldn’t get what she wanted we were firm but compassionate. When she almost failed to graduate we didn’t gloat, we cried. Natural consequences can hurt parents, too. We have to be aware of what we’re allowing, then be prepared to allow positive consequences when the ball starts rolling in the right direction.