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Natural consequences are a great way to help our children understand their mistake as well as learn from it. In fact, this is a lesson in the way of life.
If you don’t manage your money and can’t pay your electric bill at the end of the month…you loose your power.
When you choose to stay out late one too many nights and have a reputation for showing to work late…you loose your job.
Our home…the safest place to fail
It’s the way of the world and the sooner our children learn this, the better. In fact, we absolutely want them to learn this from a young age and while they are still in our home. Our home is the safest place for our children to make mistakes. Within our care, our children can make mistakes and even be outright disobedient but will be doing so in an environment where they can be met with love, understanding and guidance.
Real Life Examples
Look at these three examples from our family of how natural consequences can be used in place of an unrelated punishment. We prefer this in order to help our children learn about responsibility as well as to correct behavior. I happen to have a sassy little toddler who totally thinks she runs our house. She needs a lot of natural consequences. I also have a four year old who, not long ago, was a raging threenager. It doesn’t seem all that different from a toddler to me, personally. He did and still does need a lot of natural consequences.
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1. Let’s say my toddler uses markers on the wall even though she knows that is not acceptable.
My toddler is fully aware that markers are to be used only at a table. And only with paper suitable for drawing on. She knows she cannot use markers with books, let alone on the wall! So, as soon as she is caught in such an act, she knows she has made a mistake.
The first thing to do is to take the markers away. I would have her help get caps on markers and return them to the correct coloring bin. Then explain that markers are no longer an option for her today. Next, I would take her to get a washcloth. We would go together to the beautifully decorated wall and she would help me wash off her work of art. After this is said and done, I would remind my daughter that markers are to be used at the table. Because of her age, I would walk her over to the table and show her that this is where she is welcome to try and use markers again tomorrow.
Here I’d like to point out that giving second chances is such an amazing gift to give our children. Their mistakes do not have to feel like insurmountable failures. I love giving my children second chances. It helps build responsibility in them. It also helps them understand that we can all make mistakes or even make choices we know are wrong, be forgiven and shown grace with a second opportunity.
In this marker scenario with my toddler, if I really wanted to test out the learning we just did, I would give her a second chance quickly. Due to her age and the fact that I would like her to really get this lesson down, working with her again soon after the incident could make a lot of sense. On the other hand, there are some days mama just doesn’t want to deal with it! In that case, a second chance the next day would be totally fine also.
2. My sweet little toddler sometimes responds with a very loud and emphatic ‘NO!’ when asked to come in the house after playing outside (or in response to anything that suites her fancy, really).
As mentioned, my daughter is fairly certain she is the boss in our house. This is because her siblings find her irresistible and so often cater to her every demand. I’ll be honest, sometimes her dad and I do, too. She is really stinking cute. However, despite her smile and hilarious sass, she still needs to follow directions. This is important so that I don’t go crazy and so I can expect her compliance in an emergency. So, when I ask her to come to me or come inside, I’d like her to listen the first time. She often has other plans or isn’t ready to stop what she is doing.
Try a heads up or count down
This is where giving kids a heads up that their play time/activity is coming to an end is helpful. I try to do a 10 minute warning, a 5 minute warning if I remember, and a 2 minute warning. This always works out to all of our benefits. The kids have had ten minutes to adjust to the idea that their current activity will be coming to an end.
They have also been told what is coming next. If what is coming next is something they aren’t going to love, like leaving somewhere fun or heading to bed, this time to warm up to the idea is really helpful. I also think it is just respectful. If throughout my day someone was just coming and making me stop activities very abruptly and expecting my explicit obedience as well as for it to be done with a happy attitude, I think I would flip out. For real.
Dealing with attitudes and rudeness
Now, let’s say a toddler has been given her warnings and still doesn’t want to come in. She may even yell loudly at me at the first ten minute warning. And by may, I mean she probably will. I have a chance to correct this with a natural consequence right then. I would invite my daughter to come in right away and sit in a time out because of her rudeness. Probably due to the fact that she is the fourth child, she totally knows what rudeness is. She calls us all out on it regularly. So, she knows when she is dishing out some attitude. She also understands she needs to adjust what she is saying and how she is saying it.
My deal with rudeness and natural consequences is this (cause it may not seem like there is a natural consequence): ain’t nobody wantin’ to be around someone who is rude. Nope. So, this is where we use time outs. If you are acting in such a way that it is unenjoyable for others to be around you, go ahead and take a time out. You are welcome to cry and fuss and be loud in your room where people don’t have to listen. I think this allows the child the space they need to deal with their emotions but saves the rest of us from having to experience it.
Time outs at our house
We use time outs as a way for someone to rethink how they are acting. We deal with most things by talking through them, but sometimes it doesn’t work with young kids, as you well know. Our timeouts are often untimed for kids older than four. I just ask the child to stay in their room as long as they need to come out with a better attitude. I also expect them to talk to whoever they were having a problem with.
For my kids four and under, I may offer them an untimed time out if they are just needing time to calm down. If it is because of an offense caused, I match their time out time with their age. Four minutes for the four year old. Two minutes for the two year old.
And in all cases, a balance between giving a kiddo some alone time to calm down/work through an issue and being with them to comfort them in a hard time must be sought. I’m not all for time ins vs time outs. This is because I do think there is a time for a child to understand that their behavior is effecting those around them negatively. I believe a time out can help with that.
3. Our toddler loves to stand up on her chair at meal time. This is not safe nor is it conducive to our family dinner time. So, it’s a no go.
We have gone through this with all of our children. There always comes a point when they figure out how to stand up in their high chair and so are done with high chairs. Or in our case, we usually have a child chair for them. We have had a couple variations but our current one is from IKEA (one of my favorite places on earth). This doesn’t always stop the standing, but usually slows it down. They tend to actually hop down from the table instead of just stand on their chair. In reality, both standing on the chair or getting down from the table before the meal is over can be dealt with using the same natural consequence.
Our meal time rule
Our saying is, ‘if you get down, you’re done.’ My kids remind each other of this regularly. The only time someone can get down from the table before they are done eating is to use the bathroom. They cannot hop up and down from the table to go get a toy (no toys at the table), go play and come back, etc. We prefer meal time to be one continuous event that has only the interruptions of four children, ages 7 and under bring…that is plenty for us to deal with without people running amuck!
If someone does choose to do this, the natural consequence is the the meal is over for that person. Obviously, if they just forgot because they got excited about something and they take a step or two, are reminded and come right back, it’s all good. We love second chances, especially when they are just in the form of a reminder and the situation can be easily corrected.
In my daughter’s case, as with any toddler, she is getting used to a new found freedom. She can now get up and down very easily without the confines of her high chair. So, we go through a season of her learning the natural consequence that if she gets down, she is done with her meal. Obviously we don’t just enact this one day and let her starve. For a week or so, we are happy to remind her and help her get back to her seat as soon as she hops down. Then we start to offer her fewer second or third or fourth chances and the consequence of a meal ending starts to be enforced. In our experience, the children learn quickly and it isn’t anything that causes them to go hungry or even feel the consequence often.
Hope this helps you!
Hopefully these examples helped show that there is very often a natural consequence that can be used when dealing with mistakes or misbehavior. This allows us to teach our little ones how to recover from their mistakes and help guide them towards obedience. I’m sure your sweet little treasure will give you ample opportunity today to try out a natural consequence! I’d love to hear how you gave this a try or situations in which you have found a natural consequence to work well!