Natural Consequences – What They Are, And What They Are Not

You may have heard about a popular discipline technique known as natural consequences. In its basic form it involves a child learning their limits on their own, without the involvement of their parents. IE. Fall down, scrape knee, ouch!

However, there is a common misconception surrounding this concept. Some parents have got a bit confused about what it really means to learn through natural consequence and are allowing their children to get hurt, in a preventable situation, in order to “teach them a lesson.”

An example of this is that they can see a child about to fall after climbing on to a chair, and choose not to catch them, to teach them not to climb.

Or perhaps a crawling baby grabs a toy from a much older toddler, who gets angry and then hits out at the baby, hurting her. The parents observe and don’t intervene, keen that their baby learn her boundaries, that she cant always get what she wants, or not to snatch.

But these are not natural consequences. Purposefully letting your children get hurt when you could have prevented it is not a natural response.

Whatever the lesson they have in mind, the main thing a child is learning in these situations is that they cannot rely on their parents to protect them.

Not a great building block for a trusting and loving relationship.

Natural consequences are a great way to learn about the world, but there is no need for you to create situations or stop yourself from saving your little ones from hurting themselves. Falls and scrapes are unavoidable in childhood and there will be many opportunities for these to be experienced which wont damage your relationship.

Some examples of natural consequences are-

– A child climbs up on a table when you are in the next room and looses his  balance, falling on to the floor.
– A child runs across a wet floor and slips over.
– A child takes off his coat outside in the rain and feels the cold and wet on his skin
– A child tastes a mouthful of soil and learns that it doesn’t taste good.

In nature, the best mothers are those that support their young. Baby bears must learn to climb trees, and an experienced mother is there to assist them when they get stuck, show them the best route down and help them when they are frightened. She does not interfere with the process, unless she recognises that she is needed. When it is cold, a good mother bear will keep her cubs warm, lick the snow off their fur and find a good dry place for them to rest. If the cubs get too cold, if she doesn’t protect them from the elements, they don’t learn a lesson, they just don’t survive.

So if you catch yourself deciding to use natural consequences to teach or discipline your children, stop and think. Natural consequences need no input from you, that is their very beauty. If you have to think about it, it is not instinctual and not natural. There is no better lesson than showing your child that you love and care for them and will always do your best to keep them from harm.

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One thought on “Natural Consequences – What They Are, And What They Are Not”

  1. Hi! I wanted to comment on your most recent entry, but I can’t see the “comment” button…oops 🙂
    Firstly, thanks for writing about prioritising, it is one of those things that I always sort of know, but keep not putting into practice…I’ve been having particularly hard time at work and at home recently precisely because I loaded myself with too many interfering commitments 😦
    Have you read “Simplicity parenting”? If not, I think you should – seem like a sort of book you will enjoy 🙂
    take care,


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