I didn't really get or understand the importance of teaching natural consequences until my eldest son was around four or five. Until then I was protecting him from natural consequences! I was making sure he had his coat on so he didn't get cold, hurrying him so he was never late, carrying his dishes so nothing would break. But there came a time when I realised that the lesson is often best learnt through natural consequences.
Natural consequences teach children consequences for their actions - positive and negative! No punishment and often no explaining is needed, the consequences are there in front of them. We know children don't learn by being told what to do. Children learn through doing, through experiences.
Natural consequences are the inevitable result of a child's own actions. Letting children experience the natural consequence of their actions is a way to teach responsibility and considered decision making. When children are allowed to make choices they learn responsibility and how to best behave. If they choose unwisely and experience the consequences of their choice, the lessons they learn are powerful and can be more powerful than any words or warning we may have given them. Natural consequences can be a strong teaching tool!
Drop a glass and it will break.
Spill a drink and you need to clean it up.
Don't take your coat and you will get cold.
Leave the playdough out and it will dry up.
Forget your hat at school and you can't play outside.
Forget your water bottle you will get thirsty.
Forget your goggles and your eyes will get sore at swimming.
Don't water your plant and it will wither.
Don't get ready on time and you will be late.
Don't put away your puzzle and you will lose a piece
Cook your cake for too long and it will burn.
Have over-due library books and you can't borrow any more.
Don't eat breakfast and you will be hungry.
Leave the ice cream out on the bench and it will melt.
Leave toys out in the rain and they will get ruined.
Be mean or disrespectful to a friend and they won't want to play with you.
Stay up late and you will be tired the next morning.
There are some wonderful natural consequences that we forget about. All the positive things we do are reinforced by natural consequences, there are lessons in that too. We water a plant and it thrives, we take a coat and we are warm, we return our library books and we can borrow more.
Natural consequences also allow for children to handle, to manage, to cope with the consequences, to build resilience. It teaches age appropriate life skills! It encourages children to organise and look after their own things, this is particularly important for school age children. Natural consequences are mostly predictable and can allow children to trust the world, much more so than arbitrary punishments.
However, not all situations lend themselves to being taught or learned by natural consequences and age appropriateness is important. There is still a need to protect our children from harm. I don't like my kids to get cold or go thirsty. I wouldn't allow my children to forget to take lunch to school. Safety always comes first and we always consider the impact our actions have on others. I wouldn't allow my child to skip sunscreen knowing they would get burnt, or allow my child to improperly care for a pet. Some actions do not have consequences that are immediately obvious and some actions don't even have a natural consequence.
It is my ultimate goal that my children will do the right thing, not because they will be punished if they don't, but because they know the consequences, they don’t want to adversely affect the people around them and their environment.
Do you use natural consequences at home? Sometimes it seems like the harsh way to teach a lesson and in our home it really depends on the situation but it is something we almost always consider.