Appropriate Natural Consequences for Disciplining a Kid

As I have been helping my sister-in-law with her kids over the past 6 months, I have become much more aware of how important appropriate discipline is for a child. I have been studying and researching the best ways to teach consequences to children and this is what I found. 

So what are some appropriate natural consequences when it comes to disciplining a kid? When it comes to disciplining a child with the natural consequences technique, it is important to remember to make the consequence for the choices made:

  • Related to the issue
  • Reasonable for the child to perform
  • Respectful towards your kid

These three “R’s” were coined to by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D.,  who is the author of the book, Positive Discipline. This form of discipline will help a child understand the way choices play a role in his or her life.

Natural Consequences as Discipline

Natural Consequences is a parenting technique that is considered to be a way to positively discipline a child. It teaches children that the choices they make affect their lives without the parent inflicting a punishment.

For example, a child who continually repeats that she wants to take her favorite stuffed animal with her even if mom says to leave it home will have to carry the stuffed animal around all day if she wants to keep it from getting lost.

The parent has to follow through with this technique and may have to put with whining, crying, and pouting from the child. 

Another example is given here:

Despite Dad’s urging him to put on his coat, Tommy goes outside when it’s cold without wearing a coat. The natural result is that Tommy gets cold. This result is a consequence of a choice Tommy made. In this example, natural consequences are:
The responsibility of the child — Tommy decided not to wear his coat.
Not administered by the parent — Dad didn’t send him outside without a coat on.

-University of Minnesota 

These are examples of parents who let their children feel the effects of making a choice. When using this method, it is crucial to be observing your child.

If the natural consequence your child would experience is dangerous, don’t allow it to happen. Don’t let your child play in the street just to prove a point.

 A critical part of this method is not to cave in. Parenting with this method can lead to a lot of temper-tantrums. A child will do everything to get their parents to give them what they want, especially if that is what the child is used to. 

Another important thing to remember is to not do the whole “I told you so” thing. The great thing about natural consequence is that your child will know that the choice he or she made was wrong.

Saying “I told you so” will only bring shame and humiliation to your child.

The 3 “R’s” to Make it Work

To really understand what is going on with this whole cause and effect thing, the discipline will need to follow the three “R’s” which are: Related, Reasonable, and Respectful.

Related: This basically means that every cause and effect that you use to discipline should have to fit the crime. Let’s say that your child did not eat dinner, the consequence for that should not be to take away TV time. These two things have no correlation.

A better option would be letting the child go to bed without giving him or her any snacks to fill her belly.

Reasonable: Meaning, don’t ask your child to do something that they can’t do. When having a child feel the consequences of their action, keep in mind their age. A toddler maybe can’t do the laundry by herself after she wet the bed but maybe she could help put the soap in or close the lid.

Older children will be able to do more. If a teenager drinks all the soda, he will have to pay for it with their allowance if he wants more. 

This is where it is also important to keep in the danger aspect. 

Respectful: Parents need to stay positive and use kind and soft language. “Piggy-backing” is a term that is used with this method. Respect your child. Don’t “piggy-back” by making the child feel bad about themselves. This method naturally supplies the consequence, you don’t need to add to it, too. 

Here is an alternative:

Instead of piggy backing, show empathy and understanding for what the child is experiencing… it can be difficult for parents to be supportive without rescuing or overprotecting, but it is one of the most encouraging things you can do to help your children develop a sense of capability. 

Positive Discipline

Appropriate Times to Use Natural Consequence

Here are some times that using this method of parenting would be very effective. 

SituationNatural Consequence
The child refuses to eat                        dinner                   The child feels hungry later
The child is tired but still has to get  up at the same timeThe child gets wet 
The child won’t get to bed on timeThe child is tired but has to get up   early
The child refuses to do homeworkHomework is left undone and is     unprepared for class
The child makes a mess in kitchenThe child has to clean it up
The child won’t wear glovesThe child will have cold hands
The child leaves a bike outsideThe bike may be damaged or stolen

When it comes to things that your child can learn from through experiencing it for themselves, it’s best not to shield them. In these instances above, letting your child go through these things will not be detrimental or dangerous.

A stubborn child can learn to eat dinner because he or she remembers how miserable it was to go to bed hungry. A child who felt foolish for going to school without the homework done will want to feel prepared for next time.

None of these examples above are truly detrimental. Obviously, a child freezing is dangerous but being out in the cold without a winter jacket for a while won’t do damage.

As a critical part of this method is not to cave in. Parenting with this method can lead to a lot of temper-tantrums. A child will do everything to get their parents to give them what they want, espeically if that is what the child is used to. 

A great thing to do to prevent a lot of breakdowns is to calmly and lovingly explain to your child what the consequence of the action will be in advanced. Preparing your kid for what is coming next is a way to help your child not feel blindsided.

If you tell your child “you are going to be really cold if you don’t wear your jacket” and the child refuses, he or she already has an idea of what the result will be.

Something else that is super helpful for this method is communicating with others who are coming into contact with your child. Tell grandma and grandpa to not give your child food after dinner.

Making discipline consistent helps a child understand. Of course, there are instances where using this method of discipline is not going to work. 

When Natural Consequence Won’t Work

Honestly, this is not a method that can be used in all situations. Sometimes kids just don’t want to do something. Brushing teeth is often something that is looked at in this case. Maybe a child can go a few days with stinky bad breath and not care.

They don’t necessarily care about the result of their action.

But a child still can’t go his or her whole life without brushing teeth. Sitting their with them and babying them may be the only way to get things like this done. 

Dangerous situations like playing in the street is another time this method won’t work. You will simply have to explain to a child what will happen if they play in the street. Then you will have to watch out and supervise. 

When the choice your child is making impacts another child. If your kid is throwing punches at some small neighbor kids, you might need to intervene instead of nature taking its time to show your child why this is wrong.

This method is not easy for the parent to watch, but it does allow a child to understand how the world operates and why making good decisions is important. 

Related Questions:

How do I discipline my child without hitting them? There are many options out there for parents. Natural consequence, logical consequence, time-outs, reward systems are just a few ways to teach your child appropriate behavior without spanking. 

What is the difference between natural consequence and logical consequence? Natural consequence is a method of parenting where parents allow their children to feel the result of their actions that naturally come.

Logical consequence happens when parents give the punishment. For example: the child is yelling at the dinner table, the parents may have a rule to dismiss the child from the table.

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