The word “consequence” gives rise to negative images of punishment and cruelty for many. A consequence is not always a punishment, however. Natural consequences, in fact, happen without any adult intervention at all.
In this article, you will learn the difference between natural consequences and punishments.
What are natural consequences?
Natural consequences are the results of behavior choices. (Related to control of error) Instead of an adult-imposed consequence, the child gets to experience the consequences of their choices.
Example 1: It's cold outside and your child wants to go outside to play, but they refuse to put a jacket on despite your suggestion that they do so.
When they get outside, they quickly become uncomfortably cold. They ask to return inside to get their jacket.
Your child got a chance to make a choice and they experienced the natural consequence of that choice.
Example 2: It's hot outside and you are about to go on a walk around the neighborhood. Your child chooses to wear a sweater knowing that it is a hot day.
She may really like the sweater or she may just be in an oppositional mood. As you are walking along, she takes her sweater off and asks you to carry it for her.
To let her experience the natural consequence of her choice to wear a sweater, you would not carry it for her. She would have to carry it for the duration of the walk.
Example 3: You have introduced glass dishes to your child. You have modeled for her how to carry them and emphasized their fragility. However, as children will do, she picks up a plate and smashes it on the floor to “test” you.
The natural consequence of this is having her help you clean up the broken glass from the floor. (This could be a natural or logical consequence, depending on the ability and willingness of the child.)
Example 4: Your child is being destructive with the Practical Life materials you have set out for her. Instead of working with her Button Frame, something she typically enjoys, she is throwing it. She is ignoring your redirection.
The natural consequence for this behavior is her Dressing Frames being removed for the time being until she has reached the understanding, with your guidance, that this material has a purpose and isn't for throwing.
Example 5: You are grocery shopping with your child and she is pushing along one of those adorable little carts and helping you with your grocery list. She starts running with the cart and ignores your request for her to stop.
You explain to her that she could hurt herself, someone else, or damage property, but she's having a classic toddler moment and continues to run.
The appropriate consequence is that she no longer gets to push her cart. She will have to sit strapped into the seat of your regular grocery cart. This is actually a logical consequence, however, it is gentle and Montessori-aligned.
In these examples, letting your child make their own choices helps them feel empowered, reduces power struggles, and allows your child a chance to learn how their behavior has consequences, however unpleasant.
While an example or two may give off the “punishment” vibe to some, it's important to understand that allowing a child to experience natural consequences doesn't mean you as a parent never involve yourself. This is especially true in circumstances where other people could get hurt or property could get damaged.
What is punishment?
Punishment is a caregiver-imposed consequence that is made in an attempt to reduce or eliminate an unwanted behavior in a child. While punishment can be effective in the short-term, it has its drawbacks.
The unwanted behavior usually reappears after the consequence is finished. Take spanking and time-outs as examples.
If spanking and time-outs worked, in theory, you would only have to give these punishments once. However, if you know parents who do these things, you may notice they are repeatedly delving out these punishments.
More important than a punishment's ineffectiveness, is that it doesn't give the child any feedback or alternatives on more appropriate behaviors. Instead of focusing on what a child should not be doing, the focus should be placed on guiding the child on how to behave appropriately.
Types of punishment
Punishment by Application– This is when a parent does something unpleasant to a child to discourage unwanted behavior. Some examples of Punishment by Application (Also called Positive Punishment.) are:
- Yelling at a child.
- Forcing a task following the behavior.
- Adding chores.
- Implementing more rules.
Punishment by Removal– This involves taking away something the child enjoys following the undesirable behavior. Some examples of Punishment by Removal (Also called Negative Punishment.) are:
- Taking away a toy.
- Not doing an enjoyable activity that was promised or expected.
- Isolating the child via “time-outs” or sending them to their rooms.
Why choose natural consequences over punishment?
Children's brains are rapidly developing, especially in the first six years of life. This is the period in their lives when logical reason is forming.
Consequences should make natural sense to the child, and their environments and relationships with their caregivers kept positive.
This is a brief summary of the difference between natural consequences and punishment, and why natural consequences are preferable. Parenting is far more complicated than can be summarized on an internet article, though.
There are some instances wherein letting a child experience natural consequences is not a viable option. (Running into the street, ect.) In these cases, try to remain consistent with whatever punishment you choose to implement and always make sure to help your child develop their reasoning skills by discussing the situation with them.
It's preferable to curtail behaviors, (We'll use running into a street as an example.) by allowing natural consequences early on, such as:
If you are out walking around the block with your toddler and she starts to run into the middle of the street and is ignoring you, you could end the walk.
You could also take a stroller along (just in case) and continue the walk, but have her safely strapped in. This will be unpleasant for her, as kids enjoy their freedom.
I hope you found this post informative! Feedback is always welcome!
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