Is That Natural Consequence You are Allowing Really a Good Discipline Choice?

When Natural Consequence are More Trouble Than Help

Written by Ariadne Brill on January 13th, 2014

This entry was posted in Family Safety, General, Gentle Discipline, Natural Learning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Natural Consequences are often talked about as the go-to gentle alternative to punitive actions like time-outs or removing privileges. Using natural consequences can, in fact, be an excellent parenting tool, but sometimes resorting to natural consequences may be ineffective and downright dangerous.

What is a natural consequence?

The goal of using a natural consequence is to allow a related consequence to our child’s actions to happen without our interference as a way for them to learn about their choices.

Here are four examples that are just too dangerous for the use of natural consequences:

Action Potentially Dangerous Consequence
A child runs into a busy road… … the child may be hit by a car.
A child plays with lighter, matches… … the child may burn his or her hand or may cause a fire.
A child finds an axe and tries it out… … the child may get seriously hurt.
A child finds and swallows pills from a cabinet… … the child may get very ill, or worse.

In the examples above we see that allowing our children to get hit by a car, being burnt, hurt or ill are not positive or effective ways to use natural consequences. “Danger Discipline,” such as dealing with fire, medicine, tools and street safety, is not a good contender for natural consequences and can be taught to children through safe and effective means, such as playful games, modeling, being pro-active, and providing supervision.

So, what are some instances when natural consequences are a great way for children to learn?

Action Safe Natural Consequence
A child refuses to wear a rain jacket outside… … the child gets wet.
A child throws a toy on the ground… … the child cannot play with the broken toy any longer.
A child spills his or her drink… … the child helps to clean it up.
A child leaves toy in the rain… …the child needs to wait until it is dry to play with it again.

Sometimes, we may wish that a natural consequence would help our children change their mind or learn not to do something again – This will not always be the case. For example, a child may not mind being wet in the rain or having cold ears because they refuse to wear a hat. If you would like to use natural consequences but find that your child is not changing their behavior, it might be a signal to you that what you wish and what your child is comfortable with may not be in sync. This is actually often okay and may just be a matter of parental acceptance of our children’s individual needs, wishes, or tastes.


If you find yourself allowing natural consequences to happen for something that you hope to change in your child’s behavior or choices because it is not safe or not in line with your family values or limits, and it is not working as you had hoped, there may be so much frustration that you get angry, forgetting your gentle parenting intentions and turning to punitive consequences. In such cases, if you are aware of your frustrations and how your needs and your child’s needs are not matching up, it may be better to try something else like problem solving, a family meeting, or setting a limit with kindness instead.

Natural Consequences can work very well as gentle parenting tools when the consequence happens on its own without any parental interference and when the consequence leads to a result that is both physically and emotionally safe (free of shame/humiliation/health risks).

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About The Author: Ariadne Brill

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Ariadne is a busy and happy mama to three curious and spunky children and a Certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. Ariadne practices peaceful, playful and positive parenting and to avoid doing the laundry she created the Positive Parenting Connection to share resources and ideas with other parents. Ariadne believes parenting is not about perfection but connection and making time to have fun! Find her on  Facebook

2 Responses to Is That Natural Consequence You are Allowing Really a Good Discipline Choice?

  1. Juliet Kemp

    Great article! One thing though – I’d say that a couple of your natural consequences are really logical consequences. They’re imposed by the parent, but they have a strong link to what happened. If a child spills, the natural consequence is just that there’s a puddle (so when my toddler knocked his water over yesterday, given the direction it went in, the natural consequence was that he got soggy trousers!). Helping to clear it up is a decision that the parent makes. (Possibly the same with the wet toy, unless there’s a reason why it won’t work when it gets wet.)

    Leon couldn’t have refused to get wet from the spilled water, but he could have refused to help clear up – if you can refuse it, it’s not a natural consequence. Of course, depending on your parenting style, logical consequences can have a place – and they’re certainly better than “time out” style unrelated punishments 🙂

    I think you’re right to be wary of getting frustrated. The other thing I think one has to be careful of is not being mean. Like the toy left in the rain – if you spot it and leave it out there, your child may see you as *letting* that happen (which is different from them forgetting it and you not noticing it either). That can seem like you’re not on their side. If my partner left a book out in the garden I might roll my eyes but I don’t think I’d deliberately leave it to get wet, so I wouldn’t do that to my kid either.

  2. Justine Uhlenbrock  

    I experienced the flip side of natural consequences, what you might call “danger discipline,” the other day when we were getting ready to go outside. My three-year-old refused to put her snow boots on–bear in mind it was 10ºF outside with snow on the ground–so I let her walk outside thinking she would immediately return in to put her boots on. Instead, she began walking over to the car nonchalantly as if her feet weren’t even cold. I mention that story just to agree with your point that sometimes allowing a natural consequence doesn’t work out the way you think it will. In that case, I of course brought her back in and insisted she put on her boots, explaining the dangers of cold feet. Three is a stubborn age!