Using Natural Consequences…

natural consequences To Teach Life Lessons

Parents often say, I understand what natural consequences are (by definition), but it’s unclear how to use them as a parenting strategy.

Let’s start here: The Definition of Natural Consequences:

Natural Consequences are the natural responses to a child’s choice with NO parental involvement.

What Natural Consequences Look Like:

Natural consequences can be feedback of any kind (positive or negative) from the environment, peers, learning materials, physical activities, etc. These can be anything from physical discomforts to challenging situations to problematic scenarios to surprise outcomes that naturally steer a child toward making more informed choices and identifying personal preferences.

What is the Purpose in Allowing for Natural Consequences? 

The ultimate purpose is to encourage children to make choices/decisions (responsible or not) without forcing, guiding, steering, correcting, influencing or coaxing a child into submission. When a child makes a poor decision (and the parents stay out of it), the child has the OPPORTUNITY to learn from the consequence, gain new information and is in a position to choose differently the next time. Likewise, when they make choices that work for them, they are in a position to learn and to make the same choice again.

natural consequences

The Outcome:

Children practice and become efficient at assessing situations, making choices, learning through the consequence, reevaluating, planning for the next time and ultimately, making choices that move them closer to their goals in life.

The Barriers:

One of the biggest barriers is a parent who is unwilling to allow their children to experience the natural consequences of their choices because:

1. She is  worried what other people will think
2. He does not want his children to “feel bad,” or “be disappointed”
3. She believes it is HER job to make sure that her children are properly clothed, fed, prepared (school, sports, sleepovers, tests, homework, etc) and organized so they never forget anything.

If you are one of the parents caught behind such a barrier, I challenge you to evaluate this faulty belief system and recognize the effects this thinking can have on your child’s self esteem. Natural consequences build resiliency, confidence, decision-making skills and prepare children to handle what life throws their way.

A motto to keep in mind: Believe in your children before they believe in themselves.

The Benefits:

  • Long-term learning that leaves the child with a sense of fairness and empathy
  • Less fighting and power struggling
  • Meaningful discovery of how the world works and your child’s role in that world
  • A growing sense of confidence and self-assured-ness in your child with each challenge / achievement



9 thoughts on “Using Natural Consequences…

  1. When my child was 7 he forgot his mittens at home. He called to ask me to bring them to him at school. I said no. He protested (loudly) and I prepared myself for a grouchy child afterschool. Instead, when I saw him next, his face was beaming. He had solved the problem by borrowing a friend’s hat for one hand and an extra glove from lost and found for the other. Now every time I am tempted to jump in, I remind myself that if I do, I will steal away the opportunity for my child(ren) to identify the problem, solve it and experience THEIR OWN success.

  2. Mark’s parents “believed” in giving “logical” consequences. This meant that they believed that the adults (including his teachers) were required to come up with a “consequence” that made sense with respect to the offense. But Mark was very smart. The parents had designed a game he could win. Mark invents a behavior, adult invents a consequence, Mark decides he’d rather suffer the consequence than allow himself to be controlled, and proves it by repeating the offense.
    By the time I met Mark he was in second grade and had a remarkable gift for misbehaving.
    Once Mark was sent to my office for pushing someone on the playground.
    I said, “Why are you here?”
    Mark said, “Because I pushed Sara.”
    “Why was that a mistake?” I asked
    “It wasn’t a mistake. I meant to.”
    His parents said he had a Sensory Motor Integration Disorder. I said they needed to give up on “logical consequences” and allow “natural” consequences. They disagreed.
    One Friday in the spring Mark’s second grade class made adobe bricks and lined them up on the back of the playground to dry. That afternoon, at the beginning of recess, Mark kicked and destroyed each of the bricks.
    I told him he would have to come in on Saturday with his parents and make a new one for each one that he broke. (Seemed like a natural consequence to me.) His parents pulled him out of school.
    What name would you give to this syndrome?

  3. I’m a big fan of natural consequences and try to let things play out that way as much as possible. I have to say, though, I think today’s schools really aren’t doing kids any favors in this regard. The teachers call if Johnny forgot his project, lunch, snow boots, musical instrument, permission slip, etc. and expect the parents to drop everything and rush it right over. I actually had to sit down with the teacher of my then-4th grader, with my son there, to explain that he needs to develop responsibility and accountability and that we needed to come to an agreement that would facilitate this. That agreement meant – with very few exceptions – that she would not call me, or let him call me, if he forgot something. His “forgetfulness” problem was solved in just a few weeks. It wasn’t easy, but if you get everyone to buy in it can work.

  4. I’m looking for advice on this one. My six year old wear a spacer in his mouth. He’s supposed to wear it all the time but constantly takes it out and hides it under the cushion and then forgets about it. He doesn’t care of if he never wears it but I do because correcting the problem with his jaw now, will save him from having surgery as a teenager. Naturally naggind doesn’t work. Does anyone have any ideas for me? I own Duct Tape Parenting. It’s a great book. I just haven’t been able to work out what to do with this one 🙂
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Siobhan,
      Boy, this is a tough one. My kids had spacers as well and it was HELL trying to get them to wear them regularly. We finally found a “creative” way to work with the kids until wearing their spacer became a habit. We enlisted the help of the orthodontist as well who also had a stake in the game. The Dentist agreed to charge our worst culprit $10.00 every time he came into the office. Believe it or not, it worked like a charm. After just 2 visits, the kiddo finally realized we were all serious and that he could either fork out the money or wear the damn spacer. Because we weren’t involved in any of this, it worked. Of course, we had to wait a few weeks while he continued to take out the spacer, but before long, he was actively keeping track of it. The point is, sometimes you have to be creative and to step out of the box. If you try and punish, threaten or in any way make him feel bad, it will backfire, so choose your strategy carefully and give it time.

  5. Ditto Siobhan’s request for advice. In her case, there is a LONG TERM natural consequence (surgery as an adult) that is out of the typical child’s planning horizon or concern. Our situation is slightly different. What is the natural consequence of a child refusing or forgetting to take medication? The medication is not optional, like an inhaler that would keep him out of gym class for a day. Additionally, our child is autistic and can get violent when off of medication. The natural consequences are that someone else gets hurt or has broken property. To deal with this, I create artificial consequences, like removing his electronics. These he understands and they work, but they’re not “natural” consequences. Do natural consequences not apply in these situations? Seems like we have to resort to other strategies.

    1. Hi Elaine, When there are extenuating circumstances, then you really have to be creative. Many of my family members are special ed teachers and we talk regularly about how parents are required to “tweak” strategies to better suit a child with a special need. I think this applies in your case. Now, having said that, the ultimate goal is to help your children take responsibility for his health, but that could take years. Try to keep the consequences simple and consistent. Don’t amp it up because you get frustrated or you think it isn’t working. Time is going to be your best ally in this situation. Hope this helps, and if not, let me know and we can keep the conversation going.

  6. For everyone who is struggling to understand Natural Consequences, part of the confusion could be that sometimes Natural Consequences aren’t the best relationship strategy to address the situation. Tune into my FB LIVE EVENT on March 12 and I will be discussing additional relationship strategies for parents to use when Natural Consequences don’t appear to be the best choice.

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