What is a Natural Consequence?
Actively working on changing a child’s behavior involves two simultaneous approaches that target both increasing positive behaviors and decreasing negative behaviors. Positive behaviors are most effectively increased through the use of praise or rewards when those specific behaviors are exhibited, while negative behaviors are most effectively decreased through the use of active ignoring or implementing consequences.
Consequences can be implemented in different ways, one of which includes natural consequences. Simply put, a natural consequence occurs when a parent chooses not to intervene and instead allows the child to experience the direct consequences of their actions. Some examples of natural consequences include the following:
- Allow a child to not do their homework at night and the natural consequence is that if it is not completed before the next school day, he will have to stay inside and complete it during recess.
- Allow a teenager to stay up past her bedtime and the natural consequence is that if she stays up too late, she will be tired the next day.
- Allow a child to go outside without a coat on in cold weather (unless it is a safety risk) and the natural consequence is that he will be cold.
- Allow a teenager to spend money earned how they would like to and the natural consequence is that if she does so frivolously, she will not have enough money to get something of greater value that she wants to buy in the future.
Are Natural Consequences Effective?
The most useful aspect of a natural consequence is the fact that it allows children to directly learn the consequences of their actions. Because of this, instead of learning that they cannot do something because it will then lead to their losing something that is unrelated (e.g., losing iPad time for not doing their homework), they instead learn the direct result of their actions. In addition, using natural consequences can be a great way to alleviate the power struggle between a child and parent, as the parent refrains from insisting on the alternate behavior and arguing about it, and instead allows the natural consequence to take place.
For What Age Groups are they Effective?
Natural consequences become effective once a child can understand the relationship between their behavior and the result (i.e., cause and effect). If a child is too young to understand this, the natural consequence will be ineffective. For this reason, teenagers are often a prime age group for this type of intervention, as the parent-child struggle for control often heightens at this time and therefore avoiding the argument and instead allowing the natural consequence to take place can be highly effective. It is important to note though that natural consequences should only be allowed when it is safe to do so, as allowing a child to engage in risky behaviors that could result in injury or harm would be contraindicated.
Written by Erika Stapert, PsyD