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.
- What are natural consequences?
- 10 Effective Natural Consequences Examples for Children
- The last thing you need to know about using natural consequences for discipline
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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 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.
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
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.
Research shows that children are least receptive to consequences with this weak link between cause and effect, particularly during adolesence. 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.
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 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.
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.
Positive discipline prefers natural consequences to logical consequences when possible.
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 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
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
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.
You’ve got this!