Saturday, May 2, 2009

Natural Consequences=Control, what do you think?

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is talking to other homeschooling parents about their parenting/educational philosophies. I especially enjoy interacting with those parents who get me to question my beliefs(you know who you are!) One parenting belief that I've had is that of "natural consequences". Examples: Bring in your bike or it will get rusty if left in the rain. Finish your work or you can't play when the neighborhood kids get home. Clean up your toys or they will go away for a day. You get the idea. But are these really natural consequences? And, more importantly, does imposing natural consequences on your children create an environment in which children feel safe and thrive? I don't have the answers (boy, do I not have the answers!) but I wanted to throw out a couple of paragraphs from a book I've been reading for discussion. The book is Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. She states on pp. 172-174,

"Gentle ways of controlling fool both the parent and the child. A child who cooperates with consequences, a time-out, or any variation of such measures with ease or even smiles is too insecure to voice her hurt and often out of touch with her own feelings. She must believe that her parents are doing the right thing and so she concludes that her sense of wrongness is a mistake not to be trusted.
Even what some parents call "natural" consequences is mostly parent-imposed and therefore causes the same harm and mistrust as punishment. If it is natural, it occurs on its own. For example, a father told me that the "natural" consequence of his son not finishing his chores is that he will not go to his friend's house, as he now must stay home and do his chores. However, if a child was expected to wash dishes and didn't , the only natural consequence is that the dishes are dirty. Canceling his play date is a punishment imposed by the parent against the child's will. The child will fear such punishment like any other. To test validity of this observation ask yourself how you would feel if your spouse told you that since you didn't mow the lawn like you planned, you now must do it and skip your yoga class.
You may choose to skip yoga, and the child who neglected the dishes may choose, after you express your feelings, to wash the dishes before going over to his friend's; however, such choices must come from respectful communication of the people involved and based on their authentic preferences. . .
In our most desperate moments, we need to recall that fear-inducing disciplinary measures lead to fear-based compliance, not thriving children. Since what we are striving for can be achieved with dignity, there is no need to fall back on old methods that hurt the child, violate his autonomy, and damage your relationship with him. When your child feels safe to be himself, he will act with competence, not in order to please you but because he wants to succeed. He will be considerate and kind not because he fears you but because he loves you."

What do you think?


  1. I love that you are exploring this. It is fascinating, challenging, and I can now say, rewarding. One of our biggest problems is what the neighbors say! I really make an effort to say yes to my kids, which is so foriegn to most parents today. I want my kids to make these decisions for themselves and learn that they ARE capable, and mistakes are normal, and we learn from them.

    Well, I could go on and on, but most of this could be done with a girls night out!

  2. Very interesting. I think I agree with this. I believe that God shows me grace all the time, and I should do the same for my children. That said, I'll admit that I don't always live up to this ideal, but I can try.

  3. I don't agree with the author. It sounds good but I think humans have a natural tendency to want to get away as much as they can. I believe parents have the responsibility to set appropriate boundaries and expectations. One thing the author didn't clarify is and I want to add is the "natural consequence" that parents impose should be known in advance and agreed by the child. It is corrective and not punitive. We should help our children to make wise choices.

  4. As with all things, balance is essential. I've seen parents go off the deep end in both directions (I've been guilty of that as well - in both directions, and *I've* felt the natural consequences from doing that - in both directions - lol).

    I also think it's important to *protect* kids from certain natural consequences (like not being hit by a truck if they run in the road, and safety stuff like that) and that it's ok educate about consequences without forcing the child to experience them.

    I'm not actually a fan of the Aldort book, I think she goes too far. I do, however, think she has a lot of interesting ideas that a person can adjust to their own beliefs.

  5. I think Penny have a lot of great points.

    My children do love to please me. They get upset even when I'm just telling them something.. like they somehow disappointed me and I have to let them know, I'm just letting them know and its not a judgment or anything like that. My daughter goes as far as knowing when I want to say something but don't.:). Talk about sensitive child.

    I do think modeling good behavior and rewarding positive behavior goes a long way. But I also think consequence certainly do have its place, whether natural or parent imposed.

    Parenting is certainly not black and white.

  6. What a great controversial topic. I have gone back and forth on where I stand on the issues you raise. There can be a coerciveness at times to logical or natural consequences. One is trying to get them to learn a particular lesson. I guess I want to respect a child's sovereignty while not becoming overly permissive. It is clear that I need to intervene for safety issues. However, chores and respect are another issue. For some reason my childrens' natural inclination to want to please has not carried over to picking up toys or bringing their dishes to the sink. Positive reinforcement has not made much of a difference. Being "considerate and kind" is not consistent. Do any of us feel considerate or kind all the time? But, you still need to try to consider people's feelings even if you feel angry. How do I convey that message? I don't think setting limits necessarily means your children will fear you, but they may resent you and do something out of obligation instead of from kindness. I think everyone resents being forced to do something and when natural consequences turn into punishment, that is what happens. I have found that having family meetings and discussing solutions together can be helpful. We try to come up with a solution that everyone is happy with. It doesn't always work but at least it's proactive, instead of reactive.