The Beauty of Natural Consequences

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and any sales made through such links will reward me a small commission – at no extra cost for you.

One day after school, I wanted a Cup of Noodles for a snack. My mom told me to wait for her to pour the boiling water in the cup. She was busy, but she knew that I could handle filling the pot with water and putting it on the stove. In the kitchen, I got a pot of water boiling, put my cup next to it, and called to my mom to let her know it was ready. I waited, and waited, and waited. What was probably 5 minutes felt like an eternity to my impatient 8 year old self. I was tired of waiting and thought I was old enough to do it myself! I carefully grabbed the pot, tipped it slowly, and lost control! Boiling water rushed out and burned my hands! It spilled everywhere making a big mess too!

As I let cold water run over my hands, I felt so embarrassed. I knew I should have listened to my mom. I cleaned up my mess and put a new pot of water on the stove. This time, I let my mom do the pouring.

Discipline was easy for my mom that day. She didn’t need to do anything to teach me a lesson. I had already learned why I should have listened to her. Her rule was meant to keep me safe. By breaking that rule, I had gotten hurt. I had experienced a natural consequence.

How to teach kids to do better

Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain that there are two goals for discipline: change the immediate behavior and help the child learn skills to do better in the future. Too often, we get caught up in the first goal. We do something like yell or give a spanking. Yes, this might stop the behavior right now, but it won’t help the child develop skills to do better next time.

We want our children to understand why they should obey our rules, and thus, want to obey (more often than not). To do this, we can use natural and logical consequences. A natural consequence is whatever happens as an effect of a behavior without you doing anything. For example, if Suzy wastes all her money on treats, she will not be able to pay for a trip to the amusement park with her friends. After Bobby hits his sister, she no longer wants to play with him. If there is a natural consequence for a behavior, often the parent doesn’t need to do much. They might empathize with the child, and discuss a better plan for next time, but the consequence does most of the teaching.

Sometimes, a natural consequence won’t work. For example, the natural consequence for riding in the car without a seatbelt would be possible death. Obviously, we aren’t going to let a child learn from this natural consequence. In my example with the boiling water, if my mom had known that I was going to pour the water on my own, she would have intervened before I burned myself and let me learn from a logical consequence. A logical consequence is something that a parent does to help their child fix his or her mistake.

Let’s look at two different reactions to the same behavior to see the difference between a consequence that is not logical and one that is.

Situation: Jane hits her little brother.

Reaction 1: Jane! That was very rude. Now you don’t get to watch TV tonight.

Reaction 2: Jane, I see you’re frustrated. Hitting your brother hurts him! You’ll need to spend some time in your room until you are calm. When Jane is ready to come out, her mom says, “I’m glad you’re ready to come be with us!” She talks with Jane about why she felt frustrated and how she could have handled the situation differently. Mom asks Jane, “How can you help your brother feel better?” Jane decides to apologize and do something nice for her brother. She rejoins the family.

The first reaction shows a consequence that is completely unrelated to Jane’s actions. Losing TV privileges doesn’t solve the problem she created (hurting her brother). In the second reaction, Jane’s mother used a logical consequence. People who hit are not safe to be around. Since Jane was not being safe, she needed to spend some time away from other people. Notice that in the second reaction, Jane’s mother is meeting both of the goals of discipline. She stopped the immediate problem, and took the time to teach Jane how she can act better next time.

It’s not always easy to think of a logical consequence

A good way to tell if you are using a natural or logical consequence is to ask yourself. “Does this consequence help the child solve the problem he or she created?” Another way to think of it is to ask yourself, “If I did this, what would I need to do to fix it?”

It’s not always easy to think of what the logical consequence would be for a given situation. When this happens, it’s perfectly fine to tell a kid that you will have to do something about the problem, but you will get back to them later. At this point, talk with someone who holds the same values as you to figure out what your next step should be. (This idea from Love and Logic is called a delayed consequence.) Another great approach is to ask the child what they can do to solve the problem. Sometimes they won’t have any ideas, but other times, they will think of a great solution!

By using natural consequences, kids quickly learn that life is much more enjoyable when they are behaving well. 

Join the Firm Happy Mom community by subscribing at the bottom of the page! I send emails once a week, and you can unsubscribe at any time.


what do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *