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Natural consequences

Through play and daily living a child most naturally learns the way of the world.
Through play and daily living a child most naturally learns the way of the world.
Photo by Damon Nofar via Flickr

Natural consequences seem simple on the surface, but they can be difficult to use properly. One of the hardest parts of using natural consequences is allowing something to play out long enough for the consequence to occur. It can be difficult to stand by and let your children make their own mistakes. Parents often want to protect their children and intervene in any inappropriate situation.

Sometimes, however, the best lessons come from letting children experience the natural consequences so they can see that you are not just making up arbitrary rules. When they experience what actually happens when they do something, it is less about mom and dad trying to ruin their lives and more about learning the effects of their behavior. That is not to say truly dangerous situations should be left to play out naturally. If a child is about to run into the street, stop them. Additionally, if a child is interfering with the rights of others, it is time to intervene.

Remember that consequence is not synonymous with punishment. Every action has a consequence. Consequences can be positive. If you study for a test, the natural consequence might be passing the test. Whereas if you do not study, the natural consequence may be that you fail.

If that same child is refusing to pick up the toys in her room, stop nagging. Let her experience the natural consequence of broken or lost toys. Remember that the goal is not for your child to hurt, but if she can see for himself that leaving toys out can ruin them, she is more likely to take care of them in the future.

If your son refuses to wear a coat, let him. He will soon learn that leaving the coat at home will make him cold, and he will be less likely to leave it the next time. Of course if temperatures are so low that it would be dangerous to let him out of the house without one, make sure he wears it.

It is important not to play “I told you so” when these natural consequences occur. Rest assured, your child realizes their mistake without you throwing it back at them.

If you have not been using natural consequences and you plan to start, let your children know in advance. Let them know that you are not going to bail them out any longer. Let them know that you are going to let them experience the consequences that naturally occur. For instance, if you usually enter your child's room to wake them up for school three or four times. Let them know in advance that you are only going to tell them to get up once. Otherwise they are set up for failure based on their expectation that you will keep reminding them to get up.

And always remember to connect with your children and spend most of the day in positive interaction.

Do you have a discipline question about a specific behavioral issue? Send it to me at, and I may feature it in an upcoming article.

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