Craig called me one
afternoon in a panic about his daughter’s behavior. “She pitches a fit every
time I tell her to do something that she doesn’t want to do. If she is busy
playing a game on the Wii console, she just ignores me until I turn off the
console and then she screams so loudly that I just don’t know what to do!”
I asked Craig what happens to Sydney when she acts that way. He asked me what I
meant. I replied that I wondered if she had any consequences for her
unacceptable behavior. The fact that he wasn’t sure what I meant was a good
indicator that he didn’t have a real grasp of effective discipline using
The Concept of Natural
If you think about it, the world is full of natural consequences.
For example, if a tiger in the jungle just sits around all day, chances are
that he won’t eat. If he doesn’t eat, then he will grow weaker until he dies.
But, however, if the tiger gets himself in gear, stalks his prey and then kills
and eats, he will survive and even thrive.
All too often, as parents, we have a bias toward protecting our children from
the natural consequences in the world around them. For example, if our teenage
son doesn’t get a summer job and earn money, we still pay for his school
clothes and give him spending money. If our smaller child acts antisocially
like Sydney did, she still gets to stay with other people and interact.
Our children have a hard time learning when we continue to protect them from
natural consequences. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be there when the
children who don’t learn from natural consequences have to face them and then
lose a job, destroy a family or find themselves in other negative situations.
They might end up wondering why someone “didn’t bail them out” of their
Teaching Through Natural
So, let’s take Craig’s scenario for a minute and try to apply the principle of
natural consequences. When Craig approached Sydney to get her to take care of
her assigned chore and she blew him off because her game was more important,
Craig took a good first step by turning off the game console. But what he
didn’t do was to help her understand that the loss of her game was a natural
consequence of her behavior.
“Sydney, you know that we have a rule in our family about not playing games
until our chores are done. Chores are something we all have to do to keep our
home liveable for all of us. If you learn that it is OK to skip a
responsibility in order to do something fun, you will have a difficult life.
So, let’s go get that chore done now and then you can come back and play your
game for a while.”
If Sydney were to continue to throw her tantrum, Craig could gently pick her up
and carry her to a time-out location and calmly say, “Sydney, when you are loud
and angry, other people don’t like to be around you. So, you can sit here in
time out and then, when you are ready to act appropriately, you are welcome to
come back out and we will get started on your chores.”
The pattern here is to impose natural consequences based on the child’s
behavioral choices. And when a parent teaches what the behavior does in the
real world, he helps a child learn to understand how the world works and
prepares them for their later years.
For example, if a teenager is late coming home from an activity, is the natural
consequence of that behavior that she should scrub all the floors in the house?
Of course not; there is no link between the behavior and the consequence. But
grounding might be an acceptable natural consequence. When a child violates a
parent’s trust, it takes some time to rebuild that trust. And while the
rebuilding is going on, a parent can’t trust a child to be away from home
If a child is found texting while driving, a couple of good natural
consequences might be the loss of a cell phone or placing a lock on text
messages, or maybe the child should not be driving at all. Imposing those
restrictions are natural consequences. Making the child cook dinner for a week
is not quite as intuitive.
Consider these tips for helping children learn through natural consequences.
child from physical harm. None
of us want a child to learn that a stove burner is hot by letting the child
touch the burner. Natural consequences that involve physical pain or danger are
things parents should not use in teaching this principle.
Don’t just impose; teach. Too often, parents will simply impose a
natural consequence without helping a child understand what is happening.
Discipline moments are teaching moments and a father should not waste a good
opportunity to teach a correct principle.
Give warnings when possible. Part of a child learning about natural consequences is giving them a fair shot at behaving in a way to avoid the consequence entirely. For example, if toys are left all over the room, the first time a dad could say to a child, “Tara, let’s go pick up the toys downstairs. If you leave your toys out, they might get broken or someone might step on them. When you clean up the toys, things go better here at home. If you don’t, you might lose the chance to play with them for a few days to help you remember that it is important to clean up.”
Helping children learn self-discipline through natural consequences and using
natural consequences to impose discipline will help you get compliance as a
father but teach them how the real world works. That understanding will bless
their lives for years to come.