Natural Consequences

“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.

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8 Responses to “Natural Consequences”

  1. Shannon November 9, 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. I really like the idea of natural consequences, but I often feel like there aren’t (obvious) natural consequences to choices my son makes. Or perhaps I’m just not able to see what they are! I know this sounds silly, but do you have any suggestions on how to figure out what natural consequences would be, if it doesn’t seem obvious?

    • Sonya November 10, 2008 at 3:30 pm #

      That doesn’t sound at all silly! It’s tough to come up with natural consequences. This will be a good exercise for me to try to describe my thought process. Hmmmm, . . .

      I guess I usually think in terms of positive outcomes, then I get an idea of what to zero-in on. For example, if the child were supposed to pick up his toys and put them on the shelf every night before bedtime, (but didn’t), I would think something like this: “If he had picked up those toys, what positive things would that have accomplished?” Then I brainstorm: Clean floor, toys not broken when stepped on, find the toy he wants next time. Now I see a recurring theme: he would have easy access to all his toys (i.e., he would find them and they wouldn’t be broken). There’s one possibility to zero-in on.

      So a natural consequence of our little example could be removing his access to his toys for a time period; in other words, taking some or all of them away. Then I think, “How would that consequence help him form the habit we want to form?” Answer: picking up lots of toys can be an overwhelming job, but if he can practice for a while with just one or two toys we can gradually add more toys back into the mix as he develops that habit.

      Does that help any or just muddy the waters?

  2. Shannon November 11, 2008 at 11:35 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thought process on this. Yes it does help. It at least gives me some steps to try to think through in order to assess the situation.
    Thanks again for all you do here. I appreciate your wisdom and insight.

  3. Erna April 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    How true! I’m enjoying your blog and look forward to reading more posts now that I am subscribed to it. :0)

  4. Tamara May 31, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    On the other hand, the child, like mine did, might suddenly discover a taste for peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches.

    I would have added something like a suggestion to the child that she mix only an ounce or so of lemonade and milk together, so that the consequences would be reduced, since the idea is not to discourage trying new things, but to reduce the negatives (wasting food, here) from trying.

    But then, scientific method is one of those habits I tend to favor encouraging.

    • Sonya June 1, 2009 at 9:34 am #

      That would have been a great option, Tamara. I wish I had thought of it at the time! (making a mental note for grandchildren 🙂 )

  5. Amanda May 31, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    What should be done with a child who flat out refused to finish the lemonade and milk concoction?

    • Sonya Shafer June 3, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      That’s something only you can determine, Amanda. You know the child, the circumstances, the heart attitude — all the variables — much better than I. Sometimes it seems like a big book of possible consequences would be so helpful, but the most effective ones are the ones that we carefully determine in the situation ourselves.

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