Natural consequences are a booger. Boy is it a lesson in patience, learning things the hard way, and so much more. But you know what? It matters. Natural consequences allow us to fully experience and comprehend what works and what doesn’t. And this is our lesson for the week.
Lesson #3: Every Action Has A Consequence
In our household, we have a few sayings our children know by heart. One of them is this: “Every action has a consequence.” Yes, our girls complete this sentence on a regular basis. This isn’t simply about the negative. This is our big concept of karma. What goes around comes around, and we firmly believe in natural consequences. Instead of running headfirst into a battle of wills with my very strong-willed children, we opt for natural consequences as much as possible.
A Natural Consequence Is…
- Action: Clara doesn’t want to wear a jacket and it’s freezing outside.
- Consequence: She’s cold and has to deal with it. (No, I don’t believe cold weather makes you sick. I think more people bundled up inside breathing on each other is what accounts for more colds in the wintertime. There are more factors than simply not wearing a jacket).
- Action: Ellie is pushing buttons and not listening to her sisters.
- Consequence: She’s not fun to be around, so Jules and Clara go play without her. With Ellie’s personality style, rejection is a tough punishment.
- Action: Juliet gets mad and chooses to hit her sister.
- Consequence: It could be one of many. Ellie retaliates and hits back (harder) and they both lose, Ellie gets mad and stops the playtime, Ellie comes to me and everyone gets a discussion about words vs. physical to get your point across. (We’ve even had the funny moments where I’m not involved, one kid picks on another, turns around, and instantly trips or runs into something, thus resulting in laughter while the kids yell “karma!”)
- Action: Clara has learned to jump in and see what needs to be done. She jumps up and helps us clear plates and clean up the kitchen.
- Consequence: We notice how she’s really going out of her way to be helpful to us and mediate with her sisters. We see her effort and patience in supporting others, and we accomplish wrapping up dinner and getting kids into bed at a reasonable hour. Thus, since she helped us out so much, we are able to retaliate with appreciation and something special for her. Thus, a “wink night”. (“Wink Nights” are special nights where we allow one child to stay up late and watch a movie/show of their choice with us while we have a treat of some kind).
What Parenting Style Does this Justify?
This opens a whole can of worms on authoritarian vs. permissive parenting. There can be all levels of extremes on both ends of the spectrum. Before I claim to say there is one label to identify the “right” parenting style, let me say this:
I believe you as the parent are the living example of what your child will model. Not what you say, but what you DO.
It doesn’t matter if you bark from the rooftops about punctuality; if your child sees you taking your sweet time, they will do the same. When you spank a child for hitting, it’s pretty difficult for your children to grasp the concept of what an “acceptable” hit is.
If you want your children to understand leadership, they have to learn how to respectfully buck the system, challenge authority, and question the norm. Yet, generally speaking, a traditional school system demands compliance, memorization, and the herd mentality. My own sweet niece told her grandfather “I don’t have any idea what to draw. At school they tell us what to do so we don’t have to think about it.” Ouch.
Authoritarian parenting expects compliance first. Like a drill sergeant, you create fast movers who follow directions well. But when, then, are they allowed to create their own thoughts and opinions?
Permissive parenting allows for freedom to express oneself, yet taken too far can be like putting a child into an ocean and expecting them to manage it on their own. I wrote a post about this a while back – instead of throwing them in the ocean, you give them lots of freedom with clear boundaries – like a bathtub. In a tub, a child recognizes the boundary and thus has freedom to play freely without fear of going to far.
Give Freedom to Roam With A Clear Foundation
Like our first lesson on independence, it’s about setting a firm foundation of our family vision. We don’t tolerate violence, hateful talk, or disrespect. We all miss the mark sometimes. I’ve yelled at my children. Nathan just this week lost his temper and slammed his hand down to prove a point. Unfortunately, as his hand was already weak from our trailer fiascos two weeks ago, he broke his fifth metacarpal. How’s that for a powerful natural consequence.
We live out our own natural consequences as adults, and we make it a point to talk to the girls about it. Nathan’s anger got the best of him. He could have broken a bed by hitting it, and he broke his hand. It was a hard lesson and a reminder to him to slow down and take a deep breath before getting so worked up.
Our children have seen us lose our tempers and not handle it well. But they have also seen us pay for it with natural consequences. Nathan hurt his hand, and the shock of that pain brought immediate awareness that the intensity of the anger did not match the importance of the issue, which was a child refusing to eat.
We aren’t above making mistakes or poor choices – this isn’t just something that affects children. We as parents have to weigh our own natural consequences just the same. There are times where the natural consequence of our actions is seeing how our actions manifest in our children. Sometimes that is a good thing (consideration for others, good manners), and sometimes it’s not (ever heard your children use those choice words you’ve uttered?).
Nathan isn’t proud of his actions last week, but I will tell you, the conversations he’s had with his daughters about anger management and all of us reflecting on that has been a powerful lesson for all of us. He is an incredible father who doesn’t hesitate to discuss his own weaknesses and opportunities for growth with his children.
Rules Can Be Created THROUGH Natural Consequences
Instead of that frustration taking us to our worst moments, it’s a valuable lesson in a natural consequence. If a child refuses to eat, then they don’t eat. Threats, brute force, or shoving it down their throats, while tempting, isn’t going to help the situation. A hungry belly when the kitchen is closed helps them remember that we aren’t short order cooks all day. Them making their own food if they are going to be super picky helps them to take responsibility for their actions and recognize the effort it takes. It also gives them a critical life lesson on taking care of themselves.
Ellie and Juliet had a harsh dose of natural consequences this week as well. They were oblivious to their surroundings as they were amped up in play. Their craziness at the top of the slide resulted in Ellie falling off and bashing her head pretty hard. Yes, there was blood and yes, this was super scary. Thankfully, the end result was only a bruised shoulder and some minor cuts. After cleaning up blood, checking for broken bones and concussions, we had some hard talks about being aware of others.
Now, the girls have created a new rule based on the lesson they learned that day. Only one person allowed on a slide at a time, period. All three of them have had serious accidents on slides with another person, so this was a natural consequence that created a rule they won’t forget now.
I read an excellent article on natural consequences, and it laid out an easy way to identify if it’s a natural consequence – make sure it’s reasonable, related, and respectful. Think of your child’s age – is the consequence appropriate? Make sure it’s related to the action. Don’t take away screen time because they didn’t clean their room; make them clean up their mess! It needs to be logical and relate in some form to the action. And never shame or belittle them for their actions. If it’s a valid natural consequence, they will get it without you rubbing it in.
Karma Is A Powerful Thing
What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Treat others the way you want to be treated. You are in charge of your attitude. It’s not just about what life throws at you; it’s how you react to it. Natural consequences are a part of life. As adults, this is what we know. We don’t have a parent grounding us when we’ve been out too late. There is no-one yelling at us to remember our jackets. We deal with the consequences of our own actions.
However, if my kids don’t know any better, they aren’t going to learn anything. It’s my responsibility as a parent to help them identify what the natural consequence is and whether it’s a good choice for them. But ultimately, that natural consequence is going to teach them more than any rule or punishment I can create.
That’s the difference between life and a textbook. Life is happening either way, so let’s dive in and live it with our kids. Believe me, they are learning what works for them and what doesn’t. Look at the natural consequences that have created you into the person you are today, and share those stories with your children.
Your Action Step this week – share a story with your children about a natural consequence you experienced and the lesson you learned from it. See if they can identify a situation in their own life where they learned through this as well.