As a parent, there is a natural pressure to help our children grow up knowing right from wrong and learn that there is a consequence (result) to every decision we make; your choices impact others and yourself. With this in mind, we typically turn to give consequences due to unwanted behaviors or step in to save our children from experiencing a negative feeling. Every parenting decision can be based on many different factors:
- How we are feeling as parents that day
- What our to-do list looks like
- If we had enough sleep
- If we feel guilty for not paying enough attention to our child
- Triggering behaviors that evoke emotion in us
This list really could go on and on. There is so much that impacts every decision we make as parents, which helps our children understand the big picture of being human, thus taking responsibility for their actions and learning how others can be simplified. And the great thing about it is that you do not have to do anything (well, you get to do a lot less), which can help our children experience natural consequences.
Natural consequences are those things that happen in response to your child’s behavior without caregiver involvement. These are imposed by nature, society, or another person, and you do not deliver a natural consequence yourself. For example, if your child doesn’t clean up their toys in the yard (and you leave them there) and the rain ruins them, they learn that cleaning up keeps things pleasant. Another example is your seven-year-old cheats at a game with his brother (and you do not step in to stop it). The natural consequence is his brother won’t play the game anymore. He learns that his choices impact how others will engage with him. It’s not always easy to step back as a parent and let things run their course, but nature has a way of teaching our children about life!
Letting our children experience life’s consequences lets them fall and allows them to get back up again. If parents constantly hold their hand, telling them to be careful or imposing consequences, children do not learn to trust themselves. They start to believe that they need to turn to others for decision-making or even begin to believe that failure is scary. Natural consequences help build resiliency. In an earlier blog post (Resilient children become emotionally healthy adults), we talk about the benefits of mistakes as a child and how this helps build problem-solving skills as an adult.
It’s important to note one must take age and development into account when letting your child experience natural consequences. Three-year-olds lack the ability to connect staying up late and feeling tired the next day, but a twelve-year-old can. Two-year-olds might not be able to connect that pushing a friend results in a friend crying (although we can verbalize the connection for them), but a four-year-old can definitely understand this concept.