I certainly think so.

At least in the way that they are usually talked about in parenting circles. As if natural consequences are a tool to be used in raising our children.

If a child drops a cup of water on the floor the natural consequence would be that the floor is wet. However, what some parents would call a “natural consequence” is that the child must clean it up on their own. This isn’t a natural consequence, it’s an imposed or extrinsic consequence. A natural consequence is something no one makes or chooses to happen.

I think parents are more likely to motivate without fear, guilt, shame or obligation which are the only results punishment yields.

12 Responses to “Natural Consequences” = Hidden Punishment

  1. Sarah says:

    A woman came onto a forum I’m on and was very frustrated with her kids running off every time she called them to the table to do school work. She wanted to know if making them go to bed 5 minutes earlier for every minute they had ‘disappeared’ was a ‘natural consequence’. She wasn’t kidding.

  2. Annie says:

    Oh my.

    Did you share your thoughts or could you not get past a blank stare at the screen? I’ve been stuck staring blankly at a screen before not know what to say.

  3. Lindsay says:

    I’ve found myself staring blankly at my screen many times wondering if I’ve read something right lol.

    For me, I’ve always heard what you’re describing as a “logical consequence” (a consequence that actually has something to do with the situation and that is imposed by someone) whereas “natural consequences” are ones that will happen without any intervention. The way I see it, the natural consequence is that the floor is wet, and the logical consequence is that it needs to be cleaned up. 99% of the time Meredith shows interest in helping so I will give her a job to do, but if she doesn’t do it “right” (or at all), it’s no biggie.

    Kris and I have had a few discussions regarding this. Mostly we agree with each other though there are occasionally discussions on when to step in with natural consequences. (For example, there is no argument that you would stop a kid from running into the road, but should we stop her from chasing the cat or let her and the cat work that out? We’ve pretty much sorted that one out already, but was the only example I could come up with off the top of my head.)

  4. Lindsay says:

    Btw I should add that I agree with you about them often just being a punishment that is just called something that sits a little better with some of the “gentle discipline” parents.

  5. Annie says:

    Protective Use of Force is a very important concept. Of course we need to step in when our child could be hurt by the result of an action.

    I don’t think it’s important to teach our children the “logical consequences” beyond modelling. (I know you aren’t suggesting this- just continuing my thought… :) ) To me, it’s unimportant whether the child help with the clean up or not but what is important is to take the attitude that they can help or not- whatever. These are things we just do without comment. I think parents often vocalise more than they need to. Spilt water = wipe it up. Thanks to our fridge having a built in water and ice cube dispenser and a curious little man we often have water all over the floor!

    I was talking to Paxye about this the other day and we were agreeing that if a child doesn’t want to wear their winter jacket outside the natural consequence will be that they will be cold. I’ve heard parents have power struggles over this issue and choose to punish the child by making them put it on forcefully or by making them suffer in the cold while blaming and shaming the child for result. Instead of forcing a jacket on them OR making them suffer by not understanding the consequence the parent can bring the jacket with them so when the child realises they are cold they can put it on.

    I could write whole posts on “protective use of force” and “teaching our children a lesson”! Maybe I will!

  6. Lindsay says:

    You should! And we are similar in that way I think, though I probably do talk more. In your example, I just start the clean up and it doesn’t matter if she helps, though normally she will without a word from me, or just a prompt if she seems to want to help but isn’t sure what to do. I don’t make a big deal out of it though and if she changes her mind or doesn’t help I don’t say anything or try and convince her that she should be helping.

    The winter jacket one is another that has come up with us too and we came to the same conclusion. Another is when things get left behind. My mom has in the past purposely not pointed out that we’d left something until we noticed (and more than once whatever it was had disappeared by that point), or if it was important (to her) she would go on and on about it. It’s true that parents often say too much and it never made me less forgetful, it just embarrassed me and made me tune her out. Especially when she would go on in front of other people about how forgetful I (or one of my sisters) is.

  7. Sarah says:

    I told her – hold on, let me go get it – “Going to bed early is not a natural consequence – it’s an imposed punishment. If that’s what you’re going for, fine, but if you’re looking for a natural consequence, that wouldn’t be it.

    The natural consequence of them not coming to sit at the table when you asked is that they’re not getting to do what they would be doing had they come sit down as asked. That’s not a real effective behavior changer if what they’re supposed to sit down and do is not appealing for them.”

    The women on that board are all over the board when it comes to discipline – except for corporal punishment. That’s a big no-no. Thank goodness. I’ve found I can’t be around those who hit their children – even online.

    The coat situation is a good example, and one that is very effective IRL if you handle it “right”. “It’s pretty cold out there. Here’s your coat.” Don’t want it. “OK, I’ll bring it with us, let me know when you need it.” If I can see that they’re freezing and just too preoccupied to think about coats, I’ll go offer it again. I’m trying to think of a good age to pull the “You didn’t want it, and it’s your responsibility, so I didn’t bring it” card. Nine years old? Is that about when they can start focusing enough to plan ahead?

  8. Annie says:

    Did she understand what you were saying and that it was imposed punishment instead of a natural consequence?

    I wish parents would strive for more than just not physically hurting their children.

    I don’t think there’s ever an age when we need to teach them by making them suffer if they don’t anticipate an outcome we can. My dh often packs me a sweater when I don’t think I’ll need it and he knows better. He doesn’t mention it and pulls it out wordlessly when I mention I’m cold and wished I’d listened to him. If he were to make it a big deal with the “I told you so” shpeal I would probably resist his help in the future not trusting that it was coming from a caring place.

  9. Sarah says:

    She did understand it, but it wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She wanted to impose the punishment she wanted but with a nice name that made her feel like it wasn’t *her* doing this to her kids, it was her kids doing it to themselves. Luckily for her, three other moms chimed in with their “add time for chores” and “make them do the work right before an early bedtime” answers that she liked better.

    I hear you on the “not just physically hurting” feelings. Because of my childhood, I thought I’d be fine with just not hitting. I’d let the next generation sort out the not yelling and the next generation work on raising whole children. Fortunately, I met the right people and read the right books at the right time and have skipped two generations.

    That’s sweet what your husband does – that’s kind of what I was throwing around in my mind. I still have vestiges of traditional “when are you going to be responsible on your own” parenting philosophies in the cobwebby corners of my mind that jump out and ambush my “treat you as someone I care about and want to help” parenting philosophies. It’s nice to talk it through with like-minded parents. (though I doubt your brain is as cobwebby as mine)

  10. Annie says:

    That really does seem to be the case often with threads on forums like that. People just want to be absolved of what they know isn’t right or “good”. They’re so stuck in being upset/hurt/angry that they want to make their children/spouse be as miserable because it’s obviously “their fault”. I want more than that. I’d like to try and take responsibility for my own feelings and reactions and in turn move through and past them. Way way past them. I want to treat my loved ones as equals worthy of the same treatment I want for myself.

    Ha. I think my mind is probably cobwebby in a different way. We had very different childhoods and live in very different places. My personal growth can’t even come close to what you’ve been through. I find myself feeling difficult emotions and knowing immediately what I want to do differently but still struggling to get there. Parenting compassionately and unconditionally can be hard sometimes but I always have it as my goal and frankly it gets easier the more you do it. As Paxye can attest to from our daily phone calls- I’m not a perfect person or parent and struggle like anyone else.

    I’m like you and am inspired and energised when I chat with like minded individuals. I just wish my “tribe” was more irl.

    Love ya, Sarah!

  11. Lindsay says:

    I love reading through comments like this! Kris does the same thing for me at times Annie, or he will take off his coat that he did bring and swear he’s not cold and I should take it.

    I hate it when people ask for advice on those forums but what they’re really asking is for support in the choices they’ve already made. It’s what I love about you guys. You tell it like it is but are supportive as well, just in a different way (and a better way, if you ask me, as it helps to keep me on track as the type of parent I want to be).

  12. Annie says:

    I agree. I appreciate honestly and proactive solutions to hard situations I’m facing.

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