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).