Natural consequences are something that happens naturally when you do something. Maybe your child is bugging the cat over and over even after being told not to and the cat scratches him. The pain from the scratch is the natural consequence [kind of off topic here, but I once had a vet tell me to never scold the child for doing something to a dog, like hitting, in front of the dog if the dog retaliated. You don't have to let the dog retalitate--I would address that. Also address your child, but not in front of the dog. Okay, back to the topic at hand]. Natural consequences are pretty easy because you don't have to do anything. They naturally happen.
Here is the fuzzy line of consequences. There are consequences that happen pretty automatically and can be considered natural, except they are controlled by people. Looking ahead, say your child was late for school because he wouldn't get out of bed. The school docks his grade unless it is an excused tardy. You, the parent, have the power to offer the excuse. This is a situation when consequences get difficult. You want your child to have good grades. Think of the importance of the grades on his life! But you also don't want to bail him out for being a slacker.
It is harder than you might think to allow your child to face consequences. Our world is gaining more and more people unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions. Nothing is ever their fault. Even something like running out of money in the checking account isn't their fault. It must be someone else's. The bank didn't tell them. So-and-so took a long time to cash a check so they thought they had more money than they did. We are constantly looking for bail outs. Most of these people were raised by parents who felt bad for the child and removed these natural consequences in life.
I use logical consequences more than any other tool in disciplining. They work well for my brain; I am very logical. Don't pick up your toys? Lose them. Can't get along with your sibling? Then you don't get to play with your sibling. Didn't eat your dinner? Don't expect an early breakfast. Did you turn on the TV without asking? I guess you lost TV for the week then. Did you mis-use a toy? Then you don't get to play with it. Did you color on the table on purpose? No more coloring today.
I think logical consequences can sound harsh. The parent sounds compassion-less and strictly judgmental. I honestly see people in chat groups that say they don't let their child experience consequences as they come. They shield them. They protect them. They are only children after all!
I like the thought from the book Parenting With Love and Logic. The book says you need to teach consequences while the stakes are low. So your 2 year old is absolutely devastated that she can't color any more today (yes, real life example from two days ago). She has the perfect little sad face and the tears fall just right. Her big eyes are brimming. Her lip pouts. She hugs you in despair.
You think, "oh, she is repentant. I am going to forgive her and give back these crayons." How likely do you think she is going to be to color on that table again? Very. I would bet she colors on the table again that same night.
Let's say instead you think, "Oh good. She is experiencing the pain of a consequence. From my perspective, losing crayons is not a big deal in her life. I am going to let her ride this out." Perhaps by starting on this path now, you are better equipped to avoid her losing her license for traffic violations. She will not always be able to turn on the charm and cry her way out of situations in life. At some point, someone somewhere is going to call her out and force her to face the choice she made. If it isn't you, it will be friends, school, bosses, law enforcement, the bank...someone will do it. It is an easier lesson to learn on crayons than on a mortgage.
But let's take this up a level. I think most of you are desirous of more for your children than avoiding getting into financial or legal trouble. As Walter Williams recently put it, "Laws Are a Poor Substitute for common Decency, Moral Values." Just because something is "legal" doesn't make it right morally. We want to teach our children to understand that actions have consequences while they are young so they can learn to apply this understanding in their lives morally. Then they can be internally driven to do what is right rather than simply trying to stay within the bounds of the law.
Logical consequences are hard. They take consistency and resolve. They require that you listen to more crying and whining than you would otherwise. Keep the end goal in mind. You are the parent. It is your job to teach the effects of choices and consequences. Yours. The world will hand the consequences out. It is your job to prepare your child while the stakes are low. And in the end, you want your child choosing the right even if there are no obvious consequences attached to doing something wrong.
Another example of low stakes found in Love and Logic is the idea of getting hurt. They basically say (if I remember right) that you should allow your young toddler to get hurt while the stakes are low. Now, this doesn't mean you hand her a knife or put her up at the top of the stairs and say "jump!" You still need to make her environment safe. But it means you don't hover. You allow her to trip and fall. You allow her to go walk on the rocks and discover they are pokey.
My caveat with this idea is I think you first need to educate the child, and you also need to allow things age appropriately. You tell your child the rocks are pokey and it will hurt her feet to walk on them--and this is assuming she is old enough to understand. You don't put your toddling 12 month old down on the ground and tell her to avoid the rocks.
Their point here was that sometime, this child is going to take a physical risk. It will be best if he did it while the stakes were low. He can understand what pain feels like and that he isn't superman after all in a low-stakes situation. If he goes through his toddler years being protected from every fall, then as his physical abilities improve, and therefore his ability to take higher risks improve, he has a greater chance of getting hurt, and hurt seriously. You can't hover forever. Someday, he will be somewhere without you.
I remember this thought being powerful to me with Brayden. I was the hovering mom trying to make sure he never felt pain. I caught him before he hit the floor. I finally let go and allowed him to do age-appropriate things where he might get hurt. With Kaitlyn, I was awesome at this from the beginning. I have been the same. To this day, Brayden handles physical pain with the least amount of dignity than all my kids :).
While applying logical consequences, remember context. When your child is sick, teething, tired, or hungry, have extra patience for your child. Logical consequences are a just action. As the parent, you need to be sure you apply mercy here, also. Use your best judgment to know how much to ignore during these tired and sore times for your child.
Don't underestimate the power of consequences. I really think if you can apply and allow consequences appropriately, you don't have to do much else in the form of correction. While I don't love everything in Love and Logic, I think it is great for getting you in the mindset of applying logical consequences. In fact, I should probably read it again. It has been a few years. There is also some discussion of consequences in On Becoming Preschool Wise.
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