Making Use of Natural Consequences
Does this scenario or something similar sound familiar: you are just about to leave the house for an appointment when you see it. There on the kitchen counter sits your daughter’s lunch. The lunch that you get up early each morning and lovingly prepare. The lunch that you reminded her was ready for her to take with her to school. It’s not that you don’t mind getting up a bit earlier to make sure she has good food to eat, its just that you wish she weren’t so forgetful. You briefly wonder who in the family she gets it from. Oh, well. You grab her lunch and head for school to make yet another lunch delivery. You are at least comforted by the fact that you know you are an involved parent. What you don’t realize is that every time the school staff see you bring in your daughter’s lunch, they just look at you with that friendly, “Thank you” smile — while to themselves they are saying, “The child who always forgets has a parent who always remembers.”
It is not wrong to want to be there for your child. It is not wrong for you to want to protect them from some of life’s little mishaps. What is wrong is continuing to rescue them in situations where, if you allowed the natural consequences to happen, you would not have to rescue them again. Ever. Your child will learn how to take responsibility for his actions and solve his own problems. And now you will have extra time to do things for yourself. Unless you see yourself living with your child for the rest of your life (or hiring staff to be at their beck and call), I encourage you to make use of appropriate natural consequences. In the above scenario it may not be her lunch that she keeps forgetting, it could be she forgot to take her completed homework, forgot his mittens, forgot his eyeglasses, forgot her ball glove, forgot his lunch money, forgot to put her dirty clothes in the hamper. Anything that creates an inconvenience for them and gives you the opportunity to rescue them is the perfect place to allow natural consequences to be the teacher.
Not all natural consequences are appropriate. Of course you would not allow your child to experience the natural consequence of running into the street and being struck by a car, or putting their hand on a hot stove. To determine if the natural consequence is appropriate, ask yourself, “What would happen in this situation if I didn’t interfere?” In the beginning scenario, she would just be a little hungry. When she gets tired of being hungry she will most likely start remembering to grab her lunch in the morning. In the case of the other examples mentioned: she would have to explain to her teacher; his hands would be cold; he may have to sit closer to the whiteboard; she would have to explain it to her coach or borrow a glove from a teammate; wear something else. When allowing for the natural consequence to happen, it is extremely important for you to not blame, shame or say, “I told you so.” The error will be recognized and understood without any additional input from you, and it will be more effective.
When making use of a natural consequence, it is helpful to pave the way beforehand. In the examples presented here, you could explain in a kind, but firm, manner that:
…if she forgets her lunch, you will not rescue her by bringing it to her. She will have to figure something out on her own.
…if he forgets his mittens, his hands will be cold.
…if she does not put her dirty clothes in the hamper, then they will not get washed on laundry day.
…if she forgets her ball glove, she will either have to sit the game out or see if she can borrow one from a teammate.
Natural consequences are effective teachers. This is not about YOU teaching your child a lesson. In the case of the forgotten lunch, when she calls with a request that you bring it to her, you calmly and simply say, “I am sorry you forgot your lunch. I am not willing to bring it to you”. Then change the subject.
Work on one issue at a time. You may discover that in working on just one issue, several others may clear up. Note: this also works on adults as well, it may just take longer . . . old habits die hard.
Have fun…take care of yourself…and always remember you are the creator of your own experience.