Like most parents, I find that half the things I say to my children go in one ear and out the other or they do listen but decide not to do what I have asked so this is where I find that consequences for their actions are a perfect learning tool for them.
Let me get one thing straight before we get down to business.
Consequences for one’s actions always need to directly affect them. This does not mean “If you don’t put your clothes away, I will sell them on the local BSS page.” And yes, I have actually said this before in my moment of weakness.
Direct consequences would be situations like, if you tell a child to put their jacket on when going outside whilst it’s raining to prevent them from getting wet and they decide not to, then they will get wet as a result of their actions.
Or my favourite consequence for my older two children (5 and 8 years) is that when they put their clothes in the dirty wash basket inside out, they have to stop what they are doing when I do the washing and put their clothes the right way and if they are not home or awake when I do the washing, I just wash, fold and put their clothes away inside out and they have deal with the consequences when they want to wear those clothes next.
There are certain personality types that learn best through experiences and most people learn best through actions rather than words so consequences for their actions are a great way for them to learn.
Of course, there are some consequences that are non-negotiable. You could never say to a child, “If you don’t wear your helmet, you will just smash your head open if you fall.” You would need to be firm and calm and explain that if they do not wear their helmet when riding their bike/scooter then they will not be allowed to ride as it is a law to wear a helmet and they could seriously injure their head if they fell.
Other circumstances where using natural consequences would be inappropriate would be telling your child, “if you don’t hold my hand to cross the road, you can get hit by a car and die.” This is another situation where you would have to be firm and calm whilst explaining the importance of road safety.
So, the main things to remember are that consequences need to affect them directly or it becomes a punishment and not a consequence of their actions. A punishment is penalizing someone for their actions whereas a consequence is a direct result of one’s action.
And always choose your battles. If it’s for their own safety or in regard to the law, then you need to enforce what you are asking your child to do. If it’s not going to affect their safety, then verbalize how it will impact on their life and let them learn for themselves.
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