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“Trust me, you’re not going to like it.”
My little girl’s big brown eyes peered solemnly across the table. “But I want to try it.”
“If you try it, you will have to sit there until you drink it all. Do you understand?”
Her eyes lit up. “Yes.”
“All right, you may try it, but you’ll have to drink the whole thing and it won’t taste good.”
My daughter learned two important lessons that day. First, actions have consequences. Second, it takes a long time to force down a glass of lemonade mixed with milk.
Consequences are powerful learning tools—whether positive or negative consequences. Charlotte encouraged us to use consequences as part of habit training. She also observed that the closer those consequences are related to the child’s conduct, the more effective they will be.
There is a law by which all rewards and punishments should be regulated: they should be the natural, or, at any rate, the relative consequences of conduct (Vol. 1, p. 148).
For example, if the child is trying to learn the habit of full attention to her lessons, set a time limit in which she must finish her lesson correctly. If she finishes early, let her have those extra minutes to do whatever she would like before the next lesson.
Prompt action on the child’s part should have the reward of absolute leisure, time in which to do exactly as she pleases, not granted as a favour, but accruing (without any words) as a right (Vol. 1, p. 121).
If you think about it, natural consequences are a reflection of real life. If we, moms, have set aside half a day to clean house and we work hard and get it done an hour early, we are rewarded with an hour to do as we please. On the other hand, if we dawdle and get distracted, we must face the consequence of completing the work at another, less convenient time and living in a dirty house in the meantime.
Natural consequences can be very effective. The only problem is that it takes more effort on our part to think of an appropriate natural consequence and to see it through.
It is evident that to administer rewards and punishments on this principle requires patient consideration and steady determination on the mother’s part. She must consider with herself what fault of disposition the child’s misbehaviour springs from; she must aim her punishment at that fault, and must brace herself to see her child suffer present loss for his lasting gain (Vol. 1, p. 148).
But trust me, when a child learns a lesson through a natural consequence, she remembers it for a long time. Just ask my daughter.