Natural consequences, as you might expect, are those that happen naturally. You touch a hot stove and burn your hand. You eat too much and get a stomach ache. A child who is running in the hallway slips and falls.
These consequences are the most powerful motivator for future behavior change. They motivate connected children to learn a new skill and “put it in their backpack.” Unfortunately, we’ve removed natural consequences from schools. We try to prevent all interpersonal conflicts using prearranged punishments and rewards.
With Conscious Discipline, we transform these same conflicts into teaching opportunities. This allows us to foster vital social skills in context.
WHEN TO USE
Use natural consequences to respond to everyday teasing, pushing, poking, name-calling, and other minor conflicts. They can also help children who break rules, disregard routines, or tattle.
Remember that natural consequences (and any other type of consequence) will not work with disconnected children. If you notice that natural consequences are having no impact on a child, work on building connections first.
HOW TO USE
To use natural consequences, adults must be supportive, reflective, and empathetic. Before addressing a situation, gain your composure. This ensures that you won’t default to anger, blame, or lecturing.
Then, focus on helping the child become aware of and learn from the natural consequences of his or her actions. Allow the child to feel the feelings associated with his or her choice, whether this is a disappointment, frustration, sadness, or embarrassment. This is a key step in teaching personal responsibility.
Finally, help the child reflect on and learn new strategies. Rather than focusing on what the child shouldn’t have done, shift the focus to what the child should do instead in the future.
Let’s say you forget to focus on what you want the child to do and say, “Don’t run on the sidewalk. If you run, you may fall and scrape your knees.” But the child chooses to test your hypothesis by running on the sidewalk. And as you predicted (and unconsciously encouraged), she falls and skins her knee.
Your instinct might be to say, “I told you this would happen,” or, “Why didn’t you just listen to me? You’re okay; it’s just some scratches.” Instead, make a conscious decision to tell children what to do and offer empathy if distress occurs. This helps children feel their feelings, fostering the ability to take ownership of their choices.
Instead of initially telling the child not to run on the sidewalk, you could say something like, “Remember to walk on the sidewalk to keep your body safe.”
If the child in her excitement then chooses to run, falling and scraping her knees, your response could be, “You were running so fast on the sidewalk that you tripped and fell. That seemed scary and—ouch! —those knees must really hurt. You’re safe now. Let’s go get a Band-Aid for those knees.” This allows the child to truly learn from her choices instead of simply feeling guilty for not listening.
Or perhaps you have a problem with a young child hitting. You could choose to say, “Stop hitting; that’s not nice. We don’t hit our friends.” Alternatively, you could say, “You wanted the ball. When you want the ball, say, ‘May I have a turn please,’” and show the child how to hold out his hand in expectation of receiving the ball. The first response labels the child as not nice, while the second teaches the child a new skill.
Remember that children use nonverbal communication such as hitting, grabbing, and pushing until we use the natural consequences of their actions as teaching moments. Children won’t immediately master the social skills you teach, just as they don’t become experts at writing their name the first time you teach it. Just like mastering academic skills, learning social skills takes repetition and practice.
Natural Consequences and Tattling
As parents and teachers, we often become frustrated with tattling. Common responses to tattling include, “It’s not nice to tattle,” or, “You need to learn to handle it yourself.” Developmentally, however, children up to eight years of age are genetically programmed to bring their problems and upsets to adults for assistance. Discouraging this instinct can inadvertently teach children not to trust authority.
In Conscious Discipline, we perceive tattling as a call for help and use it as a teaching tool. The natural consequence of tattling is assertiveness training. We divide tattling into three categories: intrusion tattling, revenge tattling, and safety tattling. Below, we’ll briefly explain how to handle each type.
Intrusion tattling deals with some form of victimization. When children tattle in this manner, they are expressing that they don’t know how to handle the situation. We must teach these children to use their BIG Voice (the voice of assertiveness).
In addition to teaching the child to use assertive language, help the child explain how they would like the aggressor to treat them in the future.
Child: Luke called me a name!
Teacher: Did you like it?
Teacher: Tell Luke, “I don’t like it when you call me names.”
Child: Luke, I don’t like it when you call me names.
Teacher: What do you want him to do?
Child: Stop it!
Teacher: So you want him to call you by your name? Tell Luke, “My name is Chloe. Call me that instead.”
When children lack confidence, you may need to practice with them first. Speak the words the child should say in a firm, assertive voice. Instruct the child, “Match your voice to mine.” It may also be necessary to accompany the child to speak to the aggressor.
Revenge tattling often occurs when children feel that others aren’t behaving as they should. Sometimes, it’s an attempt to get other children into trouble. Our response to revenge tattling should teach children that helpfulness is a better problem-solving tool than revenge.
Child: Jessica isn’t cleaning up!
Adult: Are you telling me to be helpful or hurtful?
Child: (Pauses to reflect): Hurtful.
Adult: What could you do that would be helpful?
Child: I don’t know.
Adult: You could say, “Jessica, would you like some help cleaning up?”
This response encourages both reflection and ownership. If the child tells you that they are trying to be helpful, you can still encourage unity and support. Say, “So, you want Jessica to be successful in our School Family and follow our agreements? How could you help her remember to clean up?” Then, as in the above example, give the child the sentence and tone of voice to use.
Safety tattling is when children report safety issues to a teacher or other adult (“Matt fell down the steps,” or, “Lauren bumped her head”).
In this case, your response should teach children to trust authority. It should also reaffirm that your job is to keep the classroom or home safe. Say, “I will take care of [child’s name]. Telling me was helpful. I will keep her safe.”
Logical consequences are the second of our three types of consequences.
Once children have learned new skills through natural consequences, you can also apply logical consequences. Logical consequences are prearranged by adults and motivate children to use skills they already have.
WHEN TO USE
Use logical consequences with connected children who already have the necessary skills. You’ll know that children have the necessary skills because you’ve spent time teaching them.
While natural consequences are for everyday problems, logical consequences are for more serious threats or safety issues. You can also use logical consequences for reoccurring minor conflicts like poking and teasing.
HOW TO USE
Logical consequences are structured using the three R’s (Related, Respectful, Reasonable) and the big E (Empathy):
Related: The logical consequence should have a cause-and-effect relationship to the child’s behavior. It should be related back to safety or helpfulness. For instance, a logical consequence for a child who chooses to run with scissors would be losing the privilege to use scissors. Missing recess, calling his parents, or getting a time-out would be illogical and ineffective.
Respectful: Deliver logical consequences in the assertive voice of “no doubt.” (This is the voice you would use to state a fact, like, “The ceiling is above us.”) Verbal and nonverbal cues should reveal that your intent is to teach, not punish.
Reasonable: Logical consequences should be doable and make sense in terms of severity and duration. These should not be empty threats; you must follow through on the logical consequence.
Empathy: When the child chooses to persist in hurtful behavior, it becomes necessary to enforce the prearranged logical consequence. Children may respond with back-talk, begging, or even threats. Instead of engaging in a power struggle, we must offer empathy to help the child reflect.
The formula for delivering logical consequences is:
“You can choose to _______ (positive action you desire) and __________ (positive consequence), OR you can choose to _____________ (negative action) and __________________ (negative consequence), so everyone is safe, including you.”
Jordan hits his friends during center time. You say, “Jordan, you have a choice. You can choose to build with your friends and play together for the rest of center time, or you can choose to hit your friends and play by yourself at the table, so everyone is safe including you.”
If Jordan stops hitting, offer encouragement: “You did it! You got this! You can do this!” If Jordan continues to hit, say, “I can see by your actions that you’re choosing to play by yourself at the table.”
At this point, Jordan may express his frustration by mouthing off. Take a few deep breaths, gain your composure, and say, “You were hoping to keep playing with your friends. This is hard. Breathe with me. You’re safe. You can handle this.”
If we respond with anger, Jordan will sit alone plotting his revenge, blaming us for the consequence, or thinking no one loves him. If we offer empathy, he instead must accept responsibility and reflect on the outcome of his choices.
Let’s say a teenager, Tasha, turns in homework that is incomplete or filled with mistakes. Say, “Tasha, you have a choice. You can choose to correct your mistakes and improve your grade, or you can turn it in as it is and receive an ‘F.’ It’s up to you.”
As in the example above, offer encouragement and help if Tasha chooses to correct her paper. If not, say, “I can see by your actions that you’re choosing to receive an ‘F.’” This directly relates to the logical consequence of Tasha’s choices, teaching responsibility.
Problem-solving, the last of our three types of consequences, motivates children to become part of the solution through the use of shared power. This is typically practiced through class meetings or the Conflict Resolution Time Machine.
WHEN TO USE
Problem-solving is a helpful tool for chronic problems (a child who always responds, “I don’t care”) or for issues that involve the whole class (the bathroom is consistently messy). If you can’t think of a natural or logical consequence that makes sense, this is an indication that problem-solving may help.
HOW TO USE
State the problem with positive intent and a focus on what you would like children to do.
Ask children for ideas on how to solve the problem.
As students come up with solutions that work, create a problem-solving class book. The book should show visual images of strategies that have been helpful. When similar problems arise in the future, you can consult the book.
Hold School Family class meetings to brainstorm solutions to chronic problems.
Two children are arguing over a toy. Say, “Both of you want to play with the same toy at the same time. We have two people and one monster truck. How can we solve this problem?”
If a problem involves the whole class, like staying silent in line, you can address it at a class meeting. Say, “We’re having a hard time remembering to stay quiet as we walk through the hallways. What can we do to help us remember?” Frame the issue with positive intent so that children offer helpful solutions instead of punishments.
Collect helpful solutions and restate them into a new class agreement or rule. You can role-play how to use this new skill so children can see what it looks, sounds, and feels like.
Finally, ask, “How will we know if our solution is working?” At the next class meeting, check the plan and evaluate the class’s progress. Celebrate success or do additional problem-solving if the issue continues.
Three Types of Consequences: Final Thoughts
When we utilize natural, logical, and problem-solving consequences in a safe and connected environment, we teach children invaluable skills that will empower them for a lifetime.
Children learn to reflect on their feelings, choices, and outcomes. They gain the ability to examine their behavior and make changes until they reach their goals. They learn to solve problems, try again, and make wise choices. These children develop an inner compass for moral living, learn self-regulation, and become responsible citizens. By using the three types of consequences, we can build a better future for our children and for generations to come.