My thanks to Faigie Kobre for returning with a much anticipated post on natural consequences for kids!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post for PragmaticMom on self esteem for children. I discussed four points that are crucial to helping your children develop good self esteem. One of the four points was consistent discipline. I also wrote under the heading of consistent discipline that punishment should be through natural consequences and since there was an interest in that topic, Mia asked me to write a follow up post addressing natural consequences.
Are natural consequences enough in disciplining children?
There are a lot of words bandied about when it comes to discipline. There is authoritarian parenting, permissive parenting, natural consequences, and logical consequences (among others). Natural consequences are indeed a wonderful way of parenting but, is natural consequences enough of a method in disciplining your children?
The short answer is probably not.
There was a very well-known psychologist years ago, named Rudolph Dreikurs. He wrote a book that I read on natural and logical consequences. He was a big believer in natural consequences. However, when I found the link to his book on Amazon, I saw that his book is updated and is now called The New Approach to Discipline: Logical Consequences
The New Approach to Discipline: Logical Consequences by Rudolf Dreikurs
This means that he realized that natural consequences can only go so far, but logical consequences fit most situations.
What are natural consequences and why aren’t they enough?
Natural consequences are, in a nutshell, dealing with the consequence of your behavior without anyone stepping in to save you.
- If you leave you’re toys out in the rain and they get lost or damaged … there go the toys and they will not be replaced.
- If you don’t put your clothing in the hamper or laundry, you will have no clean clothes.
- If you forget your lunch or snack at home, you will have nothing to eat in school.
These are just some of the scenarios where you can easily see the outcome of natural consequences.
However, one of two things ends up happening with these scenarios.
Parents often, cannot follow through on these natural consequences. They buy their children new toys when the toys get lost or stolen due to negligence on the child’s part. They will bring them lunch, snacks, and homework to school when it gets left at home. They clean up after their kids because they can’t take the mess or their children not having clean clothes.
On the opposite spectrum, there are parents that are determined to follow through on natural consequences without making exceptions and the consequences can become punitive. This becomes counterproductive as the children end up developing anger towards their parents and don’t learn the lesson they are supposed to.
For natural consequences to work well, it has to be “natural”.
- If your child forgets his homework and is going to get in trouble for not having it but, you are at work and there is no way you can get it to him, then he may very well remember it the next day. (Especially if he gets in trouble for not having it!)
- Or if your child is in a summer camp and is responsible for washing his/her own clothing and they leave their clothing all over the place then they get to see that if they don’t do their laundry they will have no clean clothes.
These are natural consequences.
In order for natural consequences to work, they need to be nonpunitive and truly natural.
What’s second best to natural consequences?
So if you can’t do natural consequences what is second best?
What is second best is logical consequences. These are consequences that the child knows will happen if such and such behavior is acted upon. They are called logical because they are a logical sequence to what will happen if they act out in certain ways. They make sense to you and to your child.
Logical consequences need to be paired up with firm limits. Children first must know their limits and what will happen if they cross those limits. One of the most important caveats, however, about dealing with firm limits and logical consequences is that they must be done without anger.
Many years ago I read a book called Why Good Parents Have Bad Kids (an excellent book).
This book highlights the methods used within a group home for children who came from highly dysfunctional and abusive homes. A couple was hired to recreate a normal, loving home environment to stand in for the parenting these children never received.
The main criteria when choosing this couple to be the house parents was that they could have no anger. People with no anger (very hard to find) means that they were able to deal with any kind of behavior from these traumatized children without reaction in anger.
This was the only way the children could heal. By being a rock to the children’s anger and not reacting to it helped them heal. It is one of the most therapeutic things you can do for angry kids.
Imagine if we could train ourselves not to react in anger to our children’s misbehavior. What a gift we would give them. (I know it’s very difficult but, a goal worth working towards!)
This is no way that children should not be given firm limits, but they have to be given the right way.
When my oldest was young I bought the book Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child.
Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries by Robert J. Mac Kenzie
The funny thing was that when I read it wasn’t called for your strong-willed child, it was just Setting Limits for Children. I guess Mr. Mackenzie realized that kids that don’t have strong wills don’t need so much limit setting … or else he realized that strong-willed children are a special niche (and boy! are they ever) and renamed it accordingly.
I used that book religiously. When I was learning how to set limits with my oldest, a difficult child, I would run into my bedroom when she would act out, and quickly turn to the page on practical applications. This is just proof that one can change with enough will and determination.
What are the main points of Logical Consequences?
There are a few things that make logical consequences successful. For them to be so, they need to be…
- Related to the misbehavior
- Use acceptable role modeling
- Realistic time limits
- If they are not immediate then you and the children can forget why and what the consequences are. The consequences will then not be effective.
- The consequences must be carried out consistently or your children will learn what they can get away with.
- If the consequences are not related to the action then it is not a consequence, it is a punishment.
- You must use acceptable role modeling which will help the child learn for the future. And of course, non-anger is the best role modeling.
- When you put a 6 yr old child for a time out for an hour or even more, he or she will tend to forget what they are in for and it loses its potency. Time limits do not have to be for long. Longer timeouts fall into the punitive range.
When I was a new teacher many, many years ago I had a woman come to mentor me from the Board of Jewish Education. I had no idea how to discipline or get the kids to listen to me. She taught me how to give a child a time out while I was holding him even just for minute or two. The point was that I held him and this put ME in control. Even though I couldn’t get him to sit for a time out, when I held him for a short period, though it was for a very short time, I was the one to let him go and tell him that his time was up.
The point is that the children have to see that you are the one in control. Just make sure that you use your control judiciously. Choose your battles wisely as not everything needs a consequence and we have to also know when to let things go.
I hope you can now see why natural consequences cannot be the only trick in the book to disciplining our children. We must use a combination of firm limits, logical and natural consequences altogether.
Read the books I suggested above as I’m sure they will help you as much as they helped me. (and don’t forget the 1,2,3 Magic that I suggested in the self-esteem post.)
1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Phelan
I am sure if you use these consequences wisely you will, as a natural consequence have happy, self-assured, confident children.
Faigie Kobre is a Mom of 6 and Grandma of 4 (so far) and a former early childhood teacher and director. She owns the website Edu Art 4 Kids. In it, she teaches parents and teachers how to give kids art that makes them better learners, enhances their self-esteem, and gets them to have initiative. If you want to understand why typical crafts for kids can undermine these skills then go get her free reports on this topic.
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