natural consequences

Natural consequences: What are they and how to use them

How can we set boundaries but still have them experience natural consequences? 

How are we even supposed to set boundaries without letting our over-parenting takeover or even our underparenting take over? Am I saying we shouldn’t set boundaries? No, not exactly. It’s more about shifting our thoughts around boundaries and “teaching our kids a lesson” with consequences, and shifting our wording when “setting a boundary”. 

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What are natural consequences?

Natural consequences are natural results of the child’s actions. The child didn’t wear a coat in the snow, they were cold and wet. The child went to bed late and is now tired at school. The child didn’t do their homework for school and got a bad grade in the class.

These are consequences that happen without anyone intervening in the situation. It’s super easy to say “I told you so.” Or, “ I knew that was going to happen, that’s why I told you no.” Or, “ You wouldn’t have gotten hurt if you just listened to me.” 

However, it’s important to refrain from doing this. The reason is because it lessens the learning that can occur from experiencing a natural consequence because the child stops processing the experience and focuses on absorbing or defending against the blame, shame, and pain.

Instead, show them empathy. Everyone wants to experience things on their own no matter what someone says, it’s almost like it’s a challenge that they are accepting. So if something happens to them that you warned them would happen, empathize by saying, “Oh man, your hands look cold after touching the snow without your gloves, are you ok? Would you like to wear your gloves?” 

It’s also hard to not rescue our kids if they make mistakes. We can assure them that we have faith in them to be able to figure out how to avoid this happening in the future. When they experience the natural consequence they will remember what happened last time so they will plan ahead to make different choices or avoid that unpleasant consequence. 

When logical consequences should come in rather than natural consequences

There are times where we do need to intervene and use logical consequences to avoid something terrible happening. 

  • Safety- when the child is in danger, playing in the streets, racing in their car for an example
  • When it’s potentially harming someone else, hitting, bullying for an example
  • When it’s getting in the way of their health- taking baths, brushing teeth, getting up for school for example

Shifting thoughts about boundaries and consequences

Earlier I mentioned shifting the idea and thoughts about boundaries and consequences. This helps take away the urge or feeling of having to be in control and needing to be in control.  

So for example a question of “how do I get my kids to do chores and help out?” changes to “how do I create an environment that encourages and supports mutual cooperation and respect and responsibility?” The idea that there has to be boundaries put in place for things to happen often comes from an underlying belief that kids will do nothing if they don’t have to, and therefore be a burden to society and never learn to coexist with other people. And the only reason that belief becomes true is because that’s how we treat them. So they never get the chance to learn and grow into it naturally.

Trust! Like teenage rebellion comes from having something to rebel against, but if there’s freedom and trust in the relationship then there’s no need for kids to “go against” parents because the parents aren’t against them

Communication is open, everyone has a say and comes up with a solution that everyone can agree on. Keep coming up with ideas until it satisfies everyone, just like what I have discussed in how to get kids to do chores without the power struggle

“Hey let’s work on curfew together.” The child might say, “I want to come home at midnight, just like all my friends are doing…it’s only fair”. and the parent sits with that, breathes into that, gets curious about that…and then communicates from emotional centeredness, communicating clearly: “Ah. I hear you. Sounds like fairness and equality is up for you…totally get it. I notice I’m having some fears come up….and I think it’s related to my longing for your safety. midnight is pushing my comfort zone….especially when you need to get up for practice at 7am. I’m not willing to agree to midnight….can we keep the conversation going until we both find a YES?”

You can have an open discussion on where they are going and come up with a reasonable agreed-upon plan. If they can share their “why they think it should be different” than usual, try to be willing to be open to hearing from them. Explain your reasoning as well and why you have a certain idea and encourage them to share why they may feel differently. Being heard and making a plan together gives them ownership, rather than feeling like it is an arbitrary rule or boundary they need to either follow or push.

This may or may not flow smoothly for you and your child at first, as the child’s brain, especially if the kiddo has been parented in power-over boundaries/coercion/punishments….as their brain is wired to equate discussing anything with a parent with defense/threat/danger. 

As far as chores to keep the house clean, I have found when parents and children are connected in a mutually respectful way, the children WANT to help without artificial boundaries. This is an example from a mom that I know. For instance, in her own personal experience, she would sit with her kids and together make a list of what needs to be done to keep their family functioning. Everyone gets input. Each person, herself included. She has things she is good at and prefers to do, other things not so much. They each decide which job they prefer and then crank the music, set a timer (so everyone, including her, knows it is not forever), and then GO. 

She didn’t assign or tell them what to do. If it is not done we sit down and give each other grace and compassion, pick up the slack for each other if someone is struggling, and try to brainstorm “how can we help each other be successful?”

This works for chores, schoolwork, etc because they are a valued part of something bigger than themselves. They feel respected and want to contribute. 

Trusting Your Child Will Learn Through Natural Consequences

It all boils down to trust. Trusting ourselves that we know we are doing things right that we are teaching them right from wrong without controlling them. Trusting our kids that they will make the right decisions. But you know they are humans and they will fall. Just like when we were kids we wanted to experience things for ourselves. Our parents would say not to do something but the more they said no the more we wanted to do and did it. 

Because we need autonomy we want to experience things we are curious creatures. As much as it’s hard to say, we can’t protect them from hurt, pain, and disappointment. It’s easy to think “why won’t they just listen to me?” I know what the outcome is going to be. I know because I experienced it before and we want to avoid them feeling the same hurt, pain, or disappointment that we have felt. 

But it’s like a plant. If we plant it in a small vase the roots will start to grow but then it will stop because the space is too small. It’s getting suffocated and it has no room to grow. But if we give a bigger space it’ll have more room to grow. 

Our kids are no different. They need space to grow, they will at the end of the day make their own decisions and we will be there when and if they fall. But often we assume either they will fall or they won’t learn from their consequences. But how will we know if we don’t let them try? The more we give the freedom and space they will comply and trust us more and ultimately listen to us more. They will not resist and try to do what we tell them not to or to do. They will know that they have the freedom to make their decision and more often they will choose the right one. 

Sure we can talk about consequences and your experiences so they have some context and awareness, but that will be their choice to make the decision. I know this is hard, it’s hard to think we don’t have the control we wish to have to protect them from the world and all the bad that comes in life. But, that is when we can let them see the natural consequences of their actions. But the less we control them the less they will want to try the “bad decisions”. When they feel like they have a choice and freedom they find their own path down the right road. 

So, making this shift of letting go of control can be really scary if you’re not used to it. And it might not go smoothly at first if you and your child aren’t used to it. Here is where the trust needs to be built between the two of you. Let them know that you have talked about the consequences that could happen or what happened to you, but that you trust that they will listen to themselves and know what is right for them. 

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