Raising children is a beautiful, surprising, heart-warming, and challenging adventure. But what’s the best way to navigate through the challenging parts? As humans, we all make mistakes, and are constantly learning throughout our lives. How might we best guide our children through their learning in a manner that is both gentle and effective? It turns out we need a variety of strategies, but some work better than others. In this blog post we highlight some of the most effective ways of helping your children learn from their mistakes.
Natural consequences are whatever happens naturally as a result of a person’s action or inaction. Natural consequences are not determined by an adult, they simply occur. For example, if your child decides not to wear a coat outside in the winter, the natural consequence is that they will feel cold. If they choose not to eat, they will feel hungry. No negative parental intervention is necessary, and in fact, should not be applied. When your child experiences a natural consequence, chances are the experience itself will teach them what they need to learn. We need not remind them that we had suggested the coat or breakfast.
To summarize, natural consequences happen all on their own. There is no adult control in these situations, and the consequence itself is not planned, but rather a natural outcome of interacting with the physical world.
Logical consequences are implemented by an adult (typically a parent or teacher), and they are directly related to the action of the child. For example, if your child spills their snack on the floor, you might remind them where the dustpan is and ask them to clean it up.
What’s really important is to remember the intention and structure of a logical consequence: it is not a punishment, but rather a gentle learning opportunity that is directly connected to the behavior. The goal is not to have the child repent for having done something wrong, but to give them an opportunity to recognize an error that they may avoid in the future. We must be careful and avoid shaming the child, and to present the situation in such a way that the child is not defined by the behavior. The behavior is simply something the child did that we would like to teach them not to do.
Do These Consequences Really Work?
Yes...most of the time.
There are times we should absolutely step in and not allow natural consequences to occur. These instances include:
When your child is in danger
When someone else is in danger
When a natural consequence encourages the child to repeat the behavior or if they don’t seem to mind the consequence (it’s clear the natural consequence is not having the desired effect). For example, sneaking lots of candy might be fun! The natural health consequences are not immediate and therefore might not make a big impression right away.
Natural and logical consequences are empowering for children. They leave the child in control of the situation and provide valuable learning opportunities.
A How-to Guide
Perhaps the most important idea to remember is that natural and logical consequences are not punishments, but rather an opportunity for the child to learn more positive behaviors. When observing a natural consequence that might help the child learn from an experience, resist the urge to step in and help your child. The natural consequence may not be pleasant, but if it’s appropriate and not hurting them, it’s okay to let them learn from it.
When you are trying to determine an appropriate logical consequence, it’s important to keep it age/developmentally appropriate. If your 2 year old takes out all their toys and makes a big mess in their room, they will likely need your help as they work to clean up. A 7 year old, however, is probably capable of doing the job themselves.
Make sure that any logical consequence is directly related to the behavior you are trying to correct. Some examples:
Your 5 year old was dancing while eating and spilled yogurt all over the floor.
Walk them through the process of cleaning up. Bring them to retrieve a bucket and sponge, help them fill it with soapy water, and demonstrate 1 or 2 wipes before letting them do the rest.
Your 6 year old was asked to clean up their blocks before bedtime but did not do so.
Let your child know you will be putting the blocks in a box and they may not use them for a certain amount of time. You might put the box in your closet for a few days.
Your 8 year old was playing baseball in the front yard where you had asked them not to and they broke a neighbor’s window.
Help your child find ways to earn money so that they may help replace the window.
Your 12 year old chose to play video games instead of doing their homework. They don’t seem phased by the natural consequence of having their teacher notice.
Let your child know they may play video games when their homework is finished, but not before.
Your newly-driving 17 year old did not return home by the agreed-upon time.
Make sure your child knows this consequence ahead of time, but perhaps they will not be allowed to use the car for a specific amount of time.
A few final points to keep in mind: natural and logical consequences often take time and patience. While they are typically the best course of action for building resilient children in the long run, only rely on them when you are in a position to fully commit. If you give in halfway through, the teaching opportunity is lost. It can also take time to come up with appropriate logical consequences, and with the realities of life, that’s not always a possibility. Let’s imagine that your 5 year old spilled the yogurt as you were rushing out the door to get to an important meeting. You may want to talk to your child as you wipe it up quickly and teach them how to mop later that afternoon.
Good luck! As always, please let us know if you have any questions or comments.