Natural Consequences

To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy. –Hippocrates.

What happens if you arrive fifteen minutes late at your job? You lose a BIG sale, or maybe you miss the coffee truck? These are both natural consequences of your actions. What happens if Jane is fifteen minutes late for school–Mr. Brown tells her the lesson has already started and she’ll have to go to the office for the remaining 45 minutes, or Mr. Brown tells Jane it’s too bad she missed hearing the instructions for their science lesson; she’ll have to wait until later before she can ask one of the other children what to do, and then complete her lesson at home? Both natural consequences? No, only the second one is. The first consequence is a punishment handed down by Mr. Smith, which Jane is likely to resent. The second, however, is the natural result of her lateness–she has no one to blame but herself.

The best lesson children can learn is facing the natural consequences of their actions. It is a necessary part of them growing up. You simply let events take their natural course, and do nothing. This speaks louder than any warning or reprimands you can give children. Natural consequences work for three reasons:

a) it makes children, not parents responsible for their own behavior
b) allows children to make up their own minds
c) gives children a chance to learn from the natural order of events, rather than forcing them to comply with someone else’s wishes.

Here are some tips on how to use natural consequences:

o Stand by. Remember, if your two kids are fighting, the slower you walk and the quieter you are, the better are your chances of it being all over by the time you get there. Don’t be over-protective by trying to save your children from experiencing consequences you know they won’t like. Also resist doing things for your children they can do for themselves–nothing stifles independence more.

o Be nice about it. Make your children feel like you’re on their side pulling for them. Show goodwill. Your tone of voice says a lot–more than what you actually say–so keep it friendly.

o When you’re following through on children’s decisions, don’t be a controlling dictator or a mushy pushover–show strength and firmness. The number one way you do this is by talking as little as possible. Remember, actions speak louder than words. If Melanie tries to get out of her decision , assure her she’ll have another chance to try again, but for now her decision stands. If you find Melanie misbehaves again and again you may want to extend her waiting period before she’s allowed to have another chance, or try another consequence.

o Always say to yourself, “This kid is okay, it’s just what he did that’s not okay.” Underneath it all you have to like your children and show respect to them–otherwise your natural consequence is going to come out more like a punishment.

o If your children do something wrong, or make a bad decision, be understanding, but don’t feel sorry for them. Just think of how you feel when people pity you. I feel weak, like I can’t handle anything. I don’t think children feel any different. Pity breeds a “poor me” attitude, and may encourage children to do it all again, just for the sake of your sympathy.

o Avoid taking on an “Oh my gosh, what will the neighbors or my colleagues think?” mentality. Some people may conclude you’re not taking care of your children, or you’re an irresponsible parent because you let your children spend money on junk food, or you didn’t stop them from cheating in basketball, or you let them go to school in weird clothes. If you get hung up on what other people think, you’ll find yourself compromising on how you want to teach or raise your children. You have to remember that your kids are not you; their mistakes are not your mistakes, and do not reflect upon your personality. What’s more, you are not responsible for everything your children do. Your children are individuals learning about life, and making mistakes is part of life. If your children don’t make mistakes, they’ll miss out on a lot of challenging experiences, which are not only fun but valuable to their character development.

As you may have guessed natural consequences do not fit for all problem behaviors. For instance, you cannot stand by and let Roger pulverize Grant, or let Andrea aim for the neighbor’s window with her soccer ball, or let Ryan barricade the door during a fire alarm at school. These demand immediate action. There are also times when natural consequences lack punch. Take April and June for instance: two girls whispering, giggling, and passing notes during your science class. The natural consequence would be for you to let them carry on, and hope they miss out on some vital bits of information. But if they’re both bright girls, chances are they’ll catch up later without missing a beat. In the meantime your other students might think, “Geez, the teacher is letting them get away with acting silly–what a cream puff,” or “talk about playing favorites,” or “I might as well do it too.”