10 Simple Natural Consequences Examples for Gentle Discipline

Natural Consequences Examples for Gentle Discipline (image of mother holding toddler in the woods)

What are natural consequences examples and why do you need them?

When your child makes a less-than-desirable choice, do you inadvertently make mountains out of molehills? Do you search high and low for that “perfect action” to make a statement, only for them to repeat the same behavior?

Natural consequences have become a popular gentle discipline tool; however, they are often misunderstood and misused by parents. And most often, natural consequences are simply a matter of knowing when to do nothing!

This post will cover ten natural consequences examples to help children strengthen their future decision-making skills.

10 Winning Natural Consequences Examples for Gentle Parenting!

By Such a Little While LLC

(text overlay image of young son and father facing each other, smiling)

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What are natural consequences?

A natural consequence is an event or outcome that occurs organically following a behavior. For children, natural consequences happen without any intervention by caregivers.

Natural consequences can either decrease the likelihood of undesired behaviors or increase the likelihood of desired behaviors.

For instance, if a child smiles and waves at a school bus and the driver honks, they may continue to smile and wave every time they see a school bus in the future.

Natural Consequences Examples:

-Direct link between cause & effect
-Not adult-imposed
-Most likely to change behavior
-Play out when we let them!

-If a child refuses to wear gloves, his hands may be cold.
-If a child hits her sibling, they may not want to play with her.
-If your child forgets their homework, they may not receive credit.

By Such a Little While LLC

Natural consequences are everywhere and continue to steer our decision-making into adulthood. For example, you drink coffee too late one evening, then struggle to fall asleep. So you decide to cut off your caffeine intake by 2 pm to avoid this in the future.

Natural consequences help children learn about themselves and how to make healthy choices.

The best part? Natural consequences do the hard work for us and can replace far less effective tools like lecturing and punishments.

When can children learn from natural consequences?

Natural consequences often work well for school-aged children and adolescents because they can understand the experience of cause and effect.

Natural consequences will not work as well during the toddler and preschool years as a means to change behavior. In terms of development, young children will have a tough time making this connection independently.

How are natural consequences used in discipline?

Parents who use natural consequences don’t always intervene when their child makes a mistake.

To use natural consequences effectively in discipline, you’ll need to know when to sit back and when to intervene.

Natural Consequences Examples

"You have an amazing positive parenting superpower: Your instincts.

Ask yourself not only if a discipline approach 'works,' but how you feel after using it."

Quote and graphic by Such a Little While LLC

Sure, if a child refuses to wear her coat, she can quickly learn the importance of doing so after one brief jacket-less trip to the bus stop. But should she independently learn the importance of looking both ways before crossing the street? Of course not.

Use common sense and intervene as necessary to avoid safety concerns.

Natural Consequences as a Problem-Solving Tool

Parents may ask reflection questions and engage in collaborative problem-solving after a natural consequence unfolds. This looks very different than shaming a child for their mistake.

For example, “You’re upset your brother doesn’t want to play with you. And he looked hurt when you called him that name. I’m wondering what needs to happen to make things right between you two?”

Note the caregiver is making observational statements and asking open-ended questions, rather than telling the child what to do to solve the problem (you can read more on how to do that here).

Punishments & Arbitrary Consequences

Punishments are the antithesis of natural consequences. They are adult-imposed, often selected randomly, and demonstrate a poor link between cause and effect. Punishments are also known as arbitrary consequences.

The goal of arbitrary consequences is typically to punish a child for their behavior. In contrast, natural consequences should aim to to teach kids new skills that will help change their future behavior.

Natural Consequences Examples

Consequences Explained: Imagine your child purposefully broke her brother's new toy...

(one thumbs down): Tell her she can't have dessert tonight. (Arbitrary consequence example)

(one thumbs up): Ask her to make things right by replacing the toy with money from her piggy bank. (Logical consequence example)

(two thumbs up): Recognize and affirm that her brother is upset and no longer wants to play with her until she calms down. (Natural consequence example)

By Such a Little While LLC

Research shows that children are least receptive to consequences with this weak link between cause and effect, particularly during adolescence. On the contrary, research shows a correlation between a positive approach to discipline and improved mental health in children.

Punishments & Arbitrary Consequences Examples

Let’s look at a classic punishment example: A child backtalks to their parent. The parent takes away their screen time.

Natural Consequences Examples

"Even though punishment and shame may stop behavior for the moment, the long-term results are usually negative...remember how YOU felt and what you wanted to do after someone inflicted blame, shame, or pain on you."

-Dr. Jane Nelson

Graphic by Such a Little While LLC

Sure, the child may be motivated short-term to earn their tablet back. But will they use more respectful language next time?  Likely not.

Punishments like taking away privileges fail to link cause and effect. Rather than reflecting on how their choice hurt others, the child will likely feel resentful and focus on the punishment itself.

Logical Consequences

Logical consequences are complex and misunderstood. Like natural consequences, they hold a clear link between cause and effect. As a result, they are more likely to be seen as “fair” by kids than by punishments.

Research also shows parents tend to view logical consequences more favorably than punishments.

The main difference between natural and logical consequences is that logical consequences are adult-imposed and require intervention.

Natural Consequences Examples

Searching for the "perfect consequence?"  Consider the perception and purpose.

To teach: Yes, this is likely positive parenting.

To punish: No, this isn't positive parenting.  

By Such a Little While LLC

Logical Consequences Examples

You remind your toddler that crayons are for paper only. A moment later, he colors all over the wall. You take away the crayons and tell your toddler he can try again later.

Unlike arbitrary consequences, logical consequences are deemed an acceptable positive parenting tool, under certain circumstances.  Logical consequences should always aim to teach, not to punish.

Gentle discipline prefers natural consequences to logical consequences when possible.

Types of Consequences: Arbitrary, Natural, Logical by Such a Little While

Arbitrary (adult-imposed, no link between cause and effect)

Natural (directly relates to behavior, in-line with positive parenting

Logical: (directly relates to behavior, adult-imposed, in-line with positive parenting*).

*Punishment-based consequences are not aligned with positive parenting

By Such a Little While LLC

10 Effective Natural Consequences Examples for Children

Once you understand the concept of natural consequences, just look out for them and stay out of the way! Here are ten natural consequences that align with a positive approach to discipline.

Natural Consequence Example for Hitting

1. If a child hurts a sibling or peer, the other child may not want to play with them.

Natural Consequences Examples for Home

(Image of young girl playing with blocks next to a wooden playhouse).

Natural Consequences Examples at Home

2. If a child cleans up quickly, they may have more time for the next activity (e.g., outdoor play).

3. If a child refuses to wear a coat or gloves, they will feel cold outside.

4. If a child throws all the sand out of their sandbox, they will not have any left to play with.

5. If a child plays too rough with a toy, the toy may break.

6. If a child forgets their homework at home, they may not receive credit for the assignment.*

*This is a natural consequence example for parents/caregivers, who can avoid dropping off the assignment at school.

7. If a child lies to their friend, the friend may not trust what they tell them in the future.

8. If a child doesn’t put their favorite shirt in the hamper, it will not get washed.

Natural Consequences Examples for the Classroom

(Image of empty classroom with chalkboard and student tables).

Natural Consequences Examples for the Classroom

9. If a child chooses to share with a classmate, the classmate may reciprocate later.

10. If a student asks questions in class, they may feel more confident on the test.

The last thing you need to know about using natural consequences for discipline

Natural consequences examples

"It's my job to fix (crossed out) validate my child's unhappy feelings.

By Such a Little While LLC

The hardest part of applying these natural consequences examples is not intervening. This is especially challenging when we know a natural consequence may cause our child to feel angry, sad, frustrated, or disappointed.

As caregivers, we’ve been conditioned with the goal of raising “happy kids.” After all, when our kids are happy, we’re most comfortable!

The truth is human beings are not happy 100% of the time. Even the happiest adults have faced every emotion in the book at one point or another.

By allowing natural consequences to unfold, we can help our children learn to cope with the inevitable range of real-world emotions (with our love and support). While this may cause feelings of discomfort, it’s an incredible gift.

Natural Consequences Examples Quote

"To rescue people from the natural consequences of their behavior is to render them powerless."

-Henry Cloud

Graphic by Such a Little While LLC

You’ve got this!

My toddler refuses to brush their teeth blot post, written by Tana from Such a Little While
Hi, I’m Tana! I’m a mom, certified positive parent educator, and former school counselor. It’s my mission to help you foster social/emotional wellness through positive parenting.

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Graphic of free PDF workbook.  Text Reads "Positive Parenting Challenge 3.0, must-know positive discipline do's & dont's, 30 powerful, easy-to-follow tips & tools, unlock 10 key features of positive parenting, customizable parenting solutions, master the art of effective consequences).

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