How to Use Natural Consequences as a Discipline Tool

Natural consequences are one of the most effective discipline strategies.
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Rather than prevent your child from making a mistake, sometimes it's helpful to let him make a poor choice. The natural consequence that follows can be a very effective teacher.

Examples of Natural Consequences

  • Allow a 10-year-old to go outside without a hat on a chilly day (as long as it is not dangerously cold). The natural consequence is that he’ll feel cold.
  • Allow a 15-year-old to set his own bedtime. The natural consequence of staying up too late is that he’ll feel tired the next morning.
  • Allow a 9-year-old to leave one of his toys outside on the lawn. The natural consequence of his lack of responsibility is that his toy may be ruined by the rain.
  • Allow a 12-year-old to spend his money as soon as he earns it. The natural consequence is that he'll run out of money and won't be able to participate in another activity.
  • Allow a 7-year-old child to cheat at a game with his brother. The natural consequence is that his brother won’t play with him anymore.

What Natural Consequences Teach

Overprotective parents spare kids from all natural consequences. Unfortunately, their kids often lack a clear understanding of the reasons behind their parents' rules. They never learn how to bounce back from failure or how to recover from mistakes because their parents prevented them from making any poor choices.

Rather than learning, "I should wear a jacket because it's cold outside," a child may conclude, "I have to wear a jacket because my mom makes me." Without an opportunity to experience real-world consequences, kids sometimes grow up without understanding the reasons for their parents rules.

Natural consequences prepare children for adulthood by helping them think about the potential consequences of their choices. Natural consequences teach healthy decision making skills and can help parents avoid power struggles.

When to Use Natural Consequences

Use natural consequences in moderation. Carefully consider how a natural consequence will impact your child and contribute to his overall learning experience.

Sometimes, taking away privileges or placing a child in time-out are more effective.

Natural consequences do not work well on younger children. Preschoolers and young elementary school children often lack the ability to understand that the consequence is a direct result of their behavior.

If you let a four-year-old choose his own bedtime he may not recognize that he's tired because he stayed up too late the night before. Unless, he relates his behavior to the consequence, he isn't likely to choose an earlier bedtime in the future.

A teenager, however, should be able to recognize the direct link between his behavior and the consequences. Make sure your child is able to recognize the connection and then apply that lesson to his future behavior.

When to Avoid Natural Consequences

Natural consequences should only be used when it is safe to do so. Don’t allow your child the natural consequence of touching a hot stove so that he’ll learn a lesson. He could get seriously injured.

Explain the natural consequence that is likely to result from his poor choice.

Intervene by telling your child why his behavior is unacceptable. If he doesn't listen, follow through with a negative consequence that will help him make better choices in the future.

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