How to be a Better Parent by using Natural Consequences
I am a christian mental health therapist and a mom of two kids. Consequences gets brought up a lot! Parents often don’t know what to do to get their child, adolescent, or teen to stop doing an undesirable behavior.
First, are you wanting to consequence or punish your child? There is a difference! A consequence is the result or effect of a behavior. For example, you don’t study so you fail the test. A punishment is a penalty as payback for the behavior. For example, you don’t study so you get your phone taken away.
The term natural consequence started being used simply as way separate from the word punishment. They were being lumped together even though they mean different things.
Some behaviors require both a consequences and a punishment because of the situation. However, the behavior will likely continue if a punishment is used without focusing on the natural consequence.
Taking away electronics has become the number one consequence (most times punishment) parents use for all situations. While kids don’t want their electronics taken away, it doesn’t necessarily stop or change the behavior. Why? Because the consequence of electronics being taken away is not always related to the behavior.
Natural Consequences are directly related to the behavior
I encourage parents to use natural consequences as often as possible because it’s more effective! Again, the definition of a consequence is the result or effect of a behavior. So a consequence is not always bad. It’s just the result. For example, studying for a test and getting a good grade.
Here are some examples.
Your child leaves out toys when you told them to clean up. The toys then get taken away for a set period of time. (less time for little kids and more as they get older). If the toys get left outside, then they stay there. Yep, they might get stolen or ruined. That is the natural consequence! If that happens, parents do not buy them the new item. If you need to clean up because of company or to mow lawn then the toys get taken away just like in the house.
A school lunch gets left on the kitchen counter. Your child will be hungry at lunch. (I promise, mom, Billy is not going to starve to death during one day.) This is way more effective than you running the lunch into school and then Billy not being allowed to play video games when he gets home. Sure he wants to play video games but it’s not going to help remind him to grab his lunch! Remembering a hungry tummy will!
Your child doesn’t complete a chore by the end of the day. The chore then has to get completed the next day before anything else can be done. Let them know you will be waking them a bit early to get it done before school. Do not do it for them and then take away electronics instead!
Natural Consequences teach cause and effect
The point is we want to change the behavior right? Then we have to focus on the consequence because of the behavior. We want our children to learn cause and effect! If I do this, then this happens. It is directly linked to the behavior and teaches to either continue the behavior or change it. Isn’t that what we want to happen? There are some things people learn very quickly because of the consequence. Touching something hot will burn you.
A punishment (not consequence) loses it’s effectiveness if it isn’t related to the behavior and if it is over used. This is why taking away electronics all of the time doesn’t work. They don’t like not having their video games or phone but honestly they don’t usually remember why you took it away! I meet with kids all the time during therapy sessions who tell me they lost their electronics again. They typically don’t remember why when I ask. If they don’t remember, we can’t process through what they should have done instead.
Sometimes losing electronics is a natural consequence. For example, you told your child he has one hour to play video games and he is still on after two hours. The natural consequence would be that he doesn’t get his one hour to play the next time. Or you told your daughter she has to be off her phone by 8:00 pm and at 10:00 pm you still hear her giggling. The natural consequence would be no phone for the following day.
If you are finding that electronics are a constant source of battle then the natural consequence is that they many not be ready or responsible enough for them. Period.
Natural Consequences reinforce character development
We want our children to be good people. Natural consequences help children to understand and reinforce how to become a good person. We are able to teach responsibility, work ethic, discipline, kindness, and compassion when we directly focus on the behavior and linking cause and effect to the consequence. Punishment is simply a penalty for your child not having the appropriate character development yet. But it doesn’t teach them how to attain it.
Natural Consequences ready children to be adults
As parents we ultimately want our children to become successful adults. Being an adult is all about natural consequences! If you don’t go to work you get fired. When the electric bill doesn’t get paid the electricity gets shut off. If you don’t take care of your vehicle it breaks down. Kids struggle as adults if their parents focused more on punishment than on natural consequences. They often don’t fully understand cause and effect of their actions and sadly are immature in character.
I sincerely pray that this post has helped to navigate the difficult waters of parenting. For more articles on parenting please check out How to be a Better Parent by Understanding Emotions and How to be a better parent by Understanding Behaviors.