5 Areas to Let Your Child Face Natural Consequences
Everyone says you should let your child face natural consequences, but
what exactly does this mean? Many parents struggle with this concept because
they don't fully understand what constitutes a "natural" consequence. And
sometimes parents have difficulty relinquishing control of consequences because
they feel they always have to get their child to obey, even if it means getting
into a huge blowout.
I've talked to many parents who have structure and
consequences in place for their child to motivate them to do their homework.
Many refuse to accept that there is little else you can do to make your child do
his homework if he doesn't care about the consequences. There comes a point,
though, where you have to let go and let your child feel the natural
consequences of poor grades, such as failing, getting spoken to by the teacher,
or even summer school. Believe me, I'm not advocating an uninvolved approach
here-far from it. I'll explain more about this later on.
Natural Consequences: Why Are They Important?
Natural consequences can best be described as the logical outcome of a decision
your child makes. These consequences sometimes come from outside forces such as
other adult influences such as teachers, but may also come from you setting
limits on how much you will do for your child. One of the most notable benefits
of letting your child face the natural consequences is you don't have to come up
with them yourself; rather, you're allowing the chips to "fall where they may".
They also help your child to learn about what happens when he makes various
choices on his own. It shows him that rules are here for a reason and going
against them is unpleasant. Natural consequences allow you to take the stance
of, "This isn't my problem. You're the one who made the choice. What are you
going to do differently next time?"
Areas Where Natural Consequences Are Effective
1. Poor decisions at school: I've worked with many parents whose kids get into
trouble at school for the way they acted, but instead of letting their child
face the music, they try to bail their kid out. Parents, remember this: your
child's version of the story is not always the true version of what has
happened. Your child will sometimes rearrange the facts to justify his poor
choices-and omit information about his own behavior. When your child makes a
poor choice at school, such as a lewd comment in the cafeteria or pushing a peer
in the hallway, the information you get about the situation is probably just the
tip of the iceberg. There is much more that goes on every day that teachers see
and hear that you don't know because most of the time it's harmless and there is
no need to tell you. And teachers know that all kids make mistakes and accept it
as part of growing up. When your child is given a consequence at school, there's
more often than not a very good reason for it. It's important that you let your
child face these natural consequences such as missing recess, going to
detention, or attending school on Saturday. If you try to get your child out of
trouble at school, you undermine the school's authority and your child gets the
message that he doesn't have to listen to his teachers, and behavior will likely
2. Personal space at home: In most cases, it's effective to let your child be in
control of her own space and her own belongings. If you tell your child that you
will only wash the clothes she puts in the laundry each week, but she doesn't
put any in the hamper, the natural consequence is that you won't wash them. You
aren't doing anything extra here or going out of your way to do something your
child can do herself; you are simply washing what there is to wash. Another
possibility here is that maybe she'll have to do her own laundry. Another
example: The natural consequence of a dirty room is that your child won't be
able to find things or she'll step on something that hurts her foot. If your
teen refuses to wear a coat in the winter, the natural consequence will be that
she is cold. If your child brings his favorite new toy to school (when you told
him not to) and it gets lost or stolen, that's the natural consequence. If he
had listened to you, he would still have those cool new Legos.
3. Household chores: The most common way for families to handle chores is to
provide a small allowance. It works best to break the allowance down into a
payment for each chore. When children don't do the chores, they don't get paid.
It's just like in the real world?if you and I don't do our work, we don't get
paid either, and then we don't have the money to buy the things we want or do
the extra fun things we want to do. This can work for any child in grade school.
With younger kids, you could do a token system or create a single behavior chart
that will allow them to earn a reward every day or two, such as playing a game
with Mom or watching a movie with Dad. Another system I love that works well
with kids who leaves their things all over the place is the ?Saturday Box.?
Every night after bed, you pick up whatever your child left lying around the
house and put it in the Saturday Box. And, as the name implies, she won't get it
back until Saturday. If one of those items happens to be her handheld game
device for example, then you have a bonus natural consequence: she won't get to
play until Saturday. And that's on her, not you, as long as you told her about
the Saturday Box ahead of time.
4. Homework: Homework and school projects are another area where your child
really needs to take responsibility for himself and earn his grades. The natural
consequences are plentiful-he may get lectured by the teacher, he may have to
stay in from recess to finish it, he may not get to participate in
school-sponsored activities that have grade restrictions, and, if it's very
serious, he might even have to repeat the grade or go to summer school. I know
this sounds harsh, but think of it this way: You aren't going to follow your
child around to his job when he grows up to make sure he does everything his
boss wants him to do, right? That's why it's best for your child to learn now
what happens when you don't meet your responsibilities. (This is not to say that
you ignore homework altogether (I will talk about when to step in and how to do
it in just a few moments).
5. Behavior in the community: We say this all the time here at Empowering
Parents: no matter how much you would like to, you can't control your child's
behavior outside your home. There may come a day when your child does something
rude or obnoxious at a friend's house; the natural consequence might be that he
isn't allowed over there for a while. Or, your teen might get caught speeding or
walking around at night after the city curfew, actions which also have their own
natural consequences. When misbehavior outside your home poses a safety risk,
you certainly do want to impose some consequences of your own at home, of
course, but that speeding ticket is a natural consequence for your child's
choice to speed while driving the car.
When Should You Give Your Child Consequences?
A good starting place here is this question: Is this a serious safety concern,
or is my child's poor decision in this situation likely to have long-term
negative or unhealthy consequences? If the answer is "yes," then you are going
to want to set some clear standards and hold your child accountable in some way.
For example, if your child's grades are failing, you can establish a daily
structure where he has no access to electronics or favorite toys from after
school until the work is done. You could also try to add additional incentives
for your child to follow this structure at least 3 or 4 days per week. This
would allow him to earn a little something extra on the weekend, like extra time
playing video games or a trip to the mall with you. (If you need more help
giving your child effective consequences, James Lehman has a best-selling
program called The Complete Guide to Consequences that can help you.)
After you've tried consequences and rewards, understand that the rest is in your
child's hands and he'll choose whether to risk the natural consequences again or
Additionally, you must step in if there is a safety is a concern. If your child
has been smoking weed or experimenting with alcohol, the car can be off limits
for a while. If your child refuses to wear a helmet, the bike is locked up. If
your child has shoplifted, he might lose the privilege of walking to the store
on his own for a while. These are just a few of many possible examples.
With every child, it's helpful for you to talk with him or her about their
decisions and the outcomes of those decisions. Younger children will need you to
offer them choices, while mid-elementary aged kids and up can make choices more
independently, but discussion and coaching with all kids is helpful. When you
talk, you can discuss your child's reason for making a decision, what the
outcome was, and what he could do differently next time. This will help him
maximize the learning that comes from mistakes and give him the skills to avoid
unpleasant consequences in the future-natural or otherwise.
The Real World Experience Kids Gain by Facing Consequences
While it's your responsibility to coach your child and point out the
consequences of his choices, your child learns best when given the opportunity
to identify his choices, consider each choice, choose, and then experience the
outcome. Even the best-behaved kids will make poor choices now and again. The
hard truth is that decision-making is a skill your child needs to learn so he
can function as an adult. Natural consequences are one of the best teachers (and
aids) a parent can have in coaching their child about life in the real world
learning to let your child experience these lessons is part of your job as a
parent. (How to Navigate the School System When Your
Child Has a Disability reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents)
by by Sara Bean, M.Ed.
Sara A. Bean, M.Ed. holds a Masters Degree in
Education with a concentration in School Counseling from Florida Atlantic
University. She is a Certified School Counselor and a proud aunt to a 5 year-old
girl. She has been with Legacy Publishing, makers of the
Total Transformation Parenting Program, since 2009 working on the Parental Support Line. Sara
has over 5 years of experience working with youth and families in private homes,
residential group homes, and schools.