When it comes to discipline, natural consequences are held up as the ideal in many parenting circles. Natural consequences occur without the parent creating them – Life is allowed to step in and becomes the teacher eg. If you’re late to bed, you’ll feel tired tomorrow or If you don’t share the toys with your friend, they might not want to play with you anymore. I still think of natural consequences as the preferred choice to offer a child when needed but, sometimes, pointing out the natural consequence doesn’t really help.
WHEN NATURAL CONSQUENCES AREN’T SUITABLE
I give my boys a choice of consequences when setting non-negotiable boundaries (usually using the process outlined in my free Respectful Discipline Printable). Non-negotiable boundaries are ones that I fully believe need to be insisted on, there is no room for compromise. Whether a particular boundary should be negotiable or not is a whole other blog post but, for me, non-negotiable boundaries are usually related to health, safety and respect. But there are 2 scenarios I sometimes find myself in when natural consequences aren’t suitable –
1) I have a non-negotiable boundary and the natural consequence is not enough to motivate my child into doing what I need to insist on.
For example, bedtime is non-negotiable, especially if my child has to go to school or kindy the next day. A natural consequence of them not going to bed is that they’ll feel tired the following day. But, in my experience, telling a preschooler that they’ll feel tired tomorrow if they don’t go to bed now is not going to work – tomorrow is too far away for them to care and they can’t quite imagine all the implications of feeling exhausted.
Take this scenario which my husband and I have been suffering through recently – Thomas (aged 3) is messing about as he’s getting ready for bed, drawing the bedtime routine out with various antics. He has kindy tomorrow and it’s already past his bedtime. He’s ignoring all of my positive prompts to stop being silly and just clean his teeth (for goodness’ sake!). He doesn’t listen when I tell him he’ll be too tired to enjoy his day tomorrow if he doesn’t get to bed. My words have no effect, it’s as if I’m not even there.
2) I have a non-negotiable boundary and I can’t think of a natural consequence.
What’s the natural consequence for poor language? – the words have already been said.
What’s the natural consequence for throwing food on the floor? – the food is just going to sit there.
I’ve had times when I’ve been kind of stumped, unable to think of a natural consequence.
WHEN WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO NATURAL CONSEQUENCES
When a natural consequence isn’t appropriate for one of these reasons, I turn to the next best thing – logical consequences. In contrast to natural consequences, logical consequences are imposed by someone (us). The important factor is that they are directly related to the behaviour.
If poor language is used, a logical consequence is for the child to leave the room so that others don’t have to hear them speak that way. “Please leave the room until you’ve finished using those words, we don’t want to hear it”. (If they won’t leave, I leave the room, saying I’m not listening to disrespectful language).
If food is thrown on the floor, a logical consequence is for the child to help tidy it up. “If you choose to keep throwing the food, you’ll have more of it to clean up”.
And, if Thomas is procrastinating as he gets ready for bed, it’s already past bedtime and my encouragement to hurry along isn’t working, I tell him, “Thomas, if you’re being silly & you take too long to get ready for bed, we will run out of time for a story. Are you going to choose to mess around or to clean your teeth now and have a story?”
WHEN LOGICAL CONSQUENCES DON’T WORK EITHER!
I view consequences on a sliding scale. Natural consequences are the first and ideal choice. Logical consequences are the next-best fair and reasonable choice. Most times, they work well…but occasionally they don’t. What do we do then?!
Not everyone may agree with me here but, if it really is a non-negotiable boundary, I’m prepared to get creative to teach my child what he needs to learn. I will use illogical consequences in as fair a way as possible after trying natural or logical consequences first. Take this current scenario that I’m working through with one of my sons –
He has been using unkind name-calling and toilet talk recently. I have non-negotiable boundaries around treating others with respect but a month of natural & logical consequences did little to improve his language. So, he now gets fined $1 of his pocket money each time he speaks disrespectfully (I give him one warning/reminder first). Before implementing this system, I talked to my son (again) about his behaviour and why it’s unacceptable. I invited him to solve the problem and asked him, “what do you think we should do about this?” He didn’t have any suggestions so I offered this idea of fining him. It kind-of appealed to him because it felt a bit like playing police. I explained to him that , he would need to improve his language over the next couple of days or I would start charging him $1 of his pocket money each time he used toilet talk or name-calling. His language didn’t improve so, effectively, he chose this system of consequences himself. When I do have to fine him, he accepts that he has to pay because the process is transparent and he got himself into this situation. I have been as fair and respectful as I can in setting this boundary around resepctful language. Fining him will not be a long-term strategy but the message is getting through.
IN SUMMARY – IT’S OK TO SET BOUNDARIES
I saw a YouTube video recently that opened with two parents saying they give their children no boundaries because they want their children to be free spirits. I’m still not sure if the video was tongue-in-cheek or real because I turned it off after the first 3 sentences but my first response to it was that children are given parents for a reason. Part of our role is to teach them skills and attitudes they can take into life, which is ultimately to empower them. And, while I’m trying to give my boys more space as I parent & I do think we sometimes impose boundaries on our children that we don’t actually need to, there are absolutely some things we must insist on. I don’t think, we need to be scared of setting boundaries if we know that they are fair and necessary.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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