Updated: Jul 8, 2020
How many times have you been going about your day with your child when they do something you have asked them not to do A MILLION TIMES and you feel like this one time is just going to break you? I mean, are they doing this to drive you insane? How do they even KNOW this is annoying the bejesus out of you?? Do you really have it in you to address this even one more time?!
My friend, let me introduce you to Natural Consequences.
What are Natural Consequences?
Natural consequences are the result that will occur inevitably from a person's choices. For example, let's say it's cold outside, and despite being asked to put on a jacket, your child refuses and goes outside without one. The natural consequence is that your child will be cold. Oftentimes, we as adults implement one of two things, punishment (i.e. timeout or no ice cream after dinner) or logical consequences (a choice we make for the child, we don’t go outside because you don’t have your jacket on).
Hopefully, if you are here reading this blog, you already are committed to not enforcing punishment. With punishment, we all lose. The child loses by feeling inferior, powerless, and oppressed and we lose by seeming unapproachable, judgmental, and feeling like a bad parent or caregiver.
In many circumstances, we will defer to logical consequences due to health and safety. We want our children to be safe and we do not want to see them get hurt or feel hungry or cold.
However, if a circumstance allows for it, a natural consequence can be the best experience for your child to learn for themselves. They will feel in control of their choices. They will gain a more lasting lesson from cause and effect from that choice they had the power in making.
Good Moments for Natural Consequences
Noticing the moments that present themselves as good natural consequence learning moments takes a lot of observation and consideration on our part as adults. It's not simply checking out and letting nature take its course. That is simply irresponsible. We observe the child in what he or she is doing and assess if it is a good moment for a logical or natural consequence.
A good place to start is reflecting on a recent “Aghh!” moment, where you were literally about to pull your hair out because, honestly, how many times do you have to tell them?!
One of my favorites for young children is outside after a rainy day when there are puddles abound. This one is a great one to start with because the stakes are very low for any harm. ALL children love puddles. I have not met a single child that is not drawn to walking through a puddle at the very least, but more often than not, they will jump and splash in a puddle at every chance they can get! God love ‘em.
BUT, we do not always have the luxury of lazing around and making conditions just right so our kids can jump around and splash in puddles every chance they get. It’s just not realistic. And it doesn’t matter who you are, there are times when your child must resist that puddle. Maybe you are on your way to drop off at school, or running errands and your child needs to NOT go in that puddle.
How to assess a learning moment
So we start asking ourselves questions about the problems that arise from the situation, in this case, jumping in a puddle.
“What are the possible outcomes if I let this naturally play out?” So, the outcome of jumping in a puddle? The child gets wet! Shoes, socks, tights, dress, pants, shirt, oh my!
“Can my child get hurt from this experience?’ There are certain experiences in which a child can get hurt from a natural consequence, in which case, you will rely on a logical consequence. In our example of jumping in a puddle, unless it suddenly turns very cold outside, or immediately your child will be walking on a slick surface, there are no threats to injury.
“Can I let my child own this experience?” If your child has no threat of injury, then yes! This is exactly what we want! We want the child to own their choices so they can best learn for the future. Letting your child own their choice will give them a direct cause and effect experience.
“Can I walk by my child’s side as they experience this?” For a natural consequence to truly work, you cannot let your emotions get tied into it, positively or negatively. This is the hardest part of letting natural consequences run their course. We so want to teach our children right from wrong. We so want them to be comfortable. However, when we react to it, the lesson is how to navigate our reactions, not cause and effect. If you make light of it and laugh and show delight in what your child has done, your child will repeat the behavior to see your reaction. If you react by saying something like “I told you so” or getting frustrated when they start to show signs of discomfort or getting frustrated at showing NO signs of discomfort, then the approach has lost its meaning. Again, the lesson has become your reaction, not what happens to me when I get wet. If you feel like you cannot go through the experience without laughing or getting frustrated, use a logical consequence instead. You have to be ready to be neutral and matter of fact. “Oh, man. Your pants are wet now.” That's it.
“How will this resolve itself?” With the jumping in the puddle situation, there were three possible outcomes: I will help change the clothes when I become available, the child will change their own clothes when the opportunity naturally arises, or the clothes will dry over time. The first resolution is for children that cannot yet change themselves. I will assist in changing their clothes, but only when it becomes convenient for me. That might mean when we are done with our outing and make it back home or into the classroom. Same with the second resolution, only the child changes themselves upon getting home or back into the classroom. The final resolution is also perfectly acceptable, let time solve the problem! Over time, the clothes will dry. It is important not to solve the problem for the child when using natural consequences. We are not making it easy, but we are also not making it hard either. As soon as an opportunity arises to solve the problem, take it! However, do not go out of your way to create the opportunity. Time is a powerful tool! If it is going to be an unreasonably long time and you are concerned about their health, then you must let a logical consequence step in.
“Why does it upset me if my child is wet right now?” Dig deep on this one. For me, it was mostly tied to the belief that others would think I was a poor caregiver to the child. I was worried that others would think I was doing a bad job, I was letting children be cold and wet and therefore not caring for the well being of the child. This is where building up a good support network helps to make better choices in aiding your child in their own life experiences. If you haven't already, build your relationship with your child’s Montessori teacher. I speak from experience, there is nothing your child’s Montessori teacher wants more than to build a strong connection with you in order to best serve your child. Also, strangers may look at your child’s wet clothes with curiosity. Remember the old adage “it takes a village”? Yeah, it does. If you feel comfortable, address it! A simple. “Oh, man. Someone couldn’t resist a puddle today!” is often enough to help others understand. More often than not, you will get a knowing look out of it, everyone has experienced this!
How do I actually apply all this?
I know, it's a lot.
But remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.
You will not be able to assess in the moment right away. While you are growing your assessing skills, you will have to take note of situations that are causing stress and write them down as soon as you get a moment. Start with actually writing these questions and answering them for situations that are frustrating to you. Give yourself an action plan and be prepared for the next time one of the scenarios arises, and they will! Write down some neutral ways you will respond to your child. Write down ways you see a particular scenario playing out. Write out different ways you can imagine a problem resolving itself.
Your child will be your natural consequence. If it doesn’t work, try something else! Ask your child’s teacher, ask your spouse, even try asking your child!
Do you have an experience of a natural consequence aiding your child's growth? Share down below! Others will gain from your experiences and oftentimes, they are a delight to reflect back on!