Unedited – my kiddo woke up before I could… I will later tonight if I can.
Sometimes a natural consequence is one that occurs beyond our control, due to physics.
Sometimes, in my opinion, a natural consequence is one that I effect for my child, but that is wholly associated with the cause of the resulting effect.
In a previous post, I discussed a child’s actions that were concerning his father -> Read Here
These two particular incidents, and my suggestion of a parental response, fit into the Parent Derived Natural Consequence category.
Here’s an example of physics at play: Joseph, if you carelessly put the dishes away, you may discover what will happen. Joseph continues to haphazardly put the dishes away and he drops a plate. Lucky for him, the floor is only wood instead of tile, but the unfortunate thing is that on its way to the floor (physics-gravity), it somehow twists just enough that instead of landing in a manner that just ends in a thud, it triggers a release of energy known as a bang, that results in the splitting in two (or four) of the material that once was a single piece, otherwise referred to as a plate.
Sucks to be Joseph… jeez, he probably could have thrown the plate on the grown and it would have landed just fine, but nooooo, it accidentally “mishandled” it just so that instead, there is now a huge mess and no longer useful plate to put away.
Scenario one: Mom is irritated, starts telling Joseph that if he’d listened to her in the first place, which he already knows, that this wouldn’t have happened. So, now he feels dumb for letting it happen, knows he’s going to be further demeaned by some sort of punishment for not being more careful in the first place, and he’s gained his mother’s disapproval yet again.
Some children will cry because they are grieved at both the loss of the approval, but also the failure they perceive is theirs.
Some children will laugh and defy as a response to the disapproval and impressed failure to “do as told” to “prevent problems”.
Some children will be compelled to make reparations. This is guilt. The concern here is how far the parent decides to let the guilt be used – in other words, they see a way to manipulate, er… that’s more politically correctly termed “teach a lesson”.
Scenario two: Mom hears the crash. Waits. Child either begins to clean up or starts calling for mom. This depends on how the same situation has been handled before, and on the child’s personality.
Mom enters the kitchen a moment or two after the crash (a younger child will need you sooner to prevent injury). But she comes quietly, not in judgement or disapproval, but understanding. She knows what the law of gravity is. She knows that we, as a human race on planet earth, are stuck with this reality.
If child is already attempting to clean up, mom must ascertain the safety of this. If it’s not safe, mom must intervene. If child is capable of cleaning up the mess, mom just allows it and makes a note to come after the child is finished and make sure no shards of glass are left anywhere. – This, by the way, is either the child who is terrified of the parent’s response, or, hopefully, the child who is wholly valued and respected, and is therefore confident enough to reason that he wasn’t quite attentive enough, which resulted in gravity winning, and well, now there is a mess and so to prevent anyone from getting hurt, it needs to be tended to. No guilt, though there might be some grief, especially if the broken item was of special meaning to someone and the child is aware of it. No disapproval imposed… by outside forces. And hopefully, the child is whole and confident, so while they may tell themselves to be more careful next time, they don’t take a hit to their “value”, nor do they hit it themselves. No humiliation. No failure. Just physics.
Now, if the child is, for whatever reason, not attempting to clean up the mess himself, the mother can initiate the process as follows:
“Hum… Looks like we better get to work cleaning this up before someone gets hurt. I will pick up the pieces if you will go get the broom.” The glass might hurt the child, so the parent is preventing injury, but the child is still actively involved in assisting.
Child returns with broom, mom encourages “Joseph” to start sweeping in an area that is safe, as she continues to work on removing potential harm. Child is contributing, and building his confidence in his ability to resolve the concern he allowed gravity to cause.
Once everything is cleaned up – Mom tells child, “Great! Looks like it’s all clean.” AND THEN LEAVES the area and says nothing more about the incident. Period. Like as in doesn’t ever mention, unless the child brings it up in the future. If there are still more dishes to be put away, the mother also doesn’t mention this to the child. She waits.. gives the child the credit that he is intelligent enough to see that there are more dishes to finish. – Now let’s say he goes ahead on his own and finishes the task. Great. Nothing more is said, except if the mother knows he needs reinforcement. If so, she still waits and unless he initiates, the most she says is something like, “Thanks for taking care of the dishes. I appreciate you.”
However, if the child is shaken, or perhaps not entirely driven to be responsible without encouragement (like how I said that??), then the mother is put into the position of refocusing. Again, she waits. She observes. Wait = Observe.
Child abandons task and goes to play. Mother notices. An hour later, mother reminds child, “Joseph, I noticed there are still dishes in the dishwasher waiting for your attention.”
Joseph’s reply will range all across the board. Mother simply affirms his response with, “ok”.
That looks like this –
Joseph: “I know, but I don’t want to do them anymore.”
Mother: “Ok.” – Now wait, don’t walk away, just stay silent. Give Joseph a chance to explain himself. Pretend you are having this conversation with another adult. If he doesn’t begin explaining, prod, a little, but with respect. “Joseph, you don’t want to do any more?” Keep the look on your face neutral but inquisitive. Don’t lace your words with a tone and motive. He knows.
Joseph: “Yeah, I don’t want to.”
Mother: “Can you help me understand why you don’t want to?”
Joseph: “I’m worried I will drop more.” (This is what a confident child will say. A child who knows he is respected and treated as a valuable member of the family. A child who doesn’t know he holds his mother’s respect will be defiant and simply state that he has better stuff to do, or insist it’s just a preference.)
If the child is concerned over a repeat failure, the mother can offer her approval and encouragement by stating that if it happens again, we’ll just clean it up again. If appropriate and beneficial for the CHILD, the mother might also offer a little advice in the form of a trick… NEVER stating that if the child were just “more careful” (or whatever other version of that concept) that it won’t happen again. Why never state this? Because no matter how careful you, as an adult, are, eventually gravity will get the better of even you! Don’t pretend it won’t, and don’t expect your kid to agree to be bound by that double standard either.
Advice in the form of a trick: “You know Joseph, when I put the dishes away, I’m worried I might drop them too. So, I give each one a name as I pick them up. Then, I keep my eye on it from the moment my finger first touches the plate until it’s safely where it belongs. Then, when I’m all done, I try to remember the names so that next time I see that same plate, I won’t have to wonder what I named it.”
Child is upheld, child is respected, child is approved of
Dishes get done, even if it takes the rest of the day
Child has a new game, and it keeps him focused on his task, which hopefully decreases the chance of gravity winning
Now, there is only one additional note to make here. In the event that you have a kiddo that hasn’t had the luxury of the high level of your respect and admiration, and doesn’t thrive in his autonomy and self worth…. OR you have a kiddo that is just not into the task for his own purposes (that being it’s boring, he has other stuff that he enjoys more, etc), you’re going to need to use a bit of parental control to make sure the task is completed and the child respects the value of his contribution.
Here’s my suggestion… and it requires patience, tolerance, foresight, and effort on the part of the parent.
Let’s say the child just outright opposes and does not finish the task of emptying the dishwasher.
Ok, this isn’t a problem. Yes, it annoys you (mom/dad) because it means you will have to do it and the child won’t gain the good from completing it. But that’s not all that’s going on…
Mother: “Joseph, I noticed there are some dishes still waiting for you in the dishwasher.”
Joseph: “I don’t want to do anymore.” – Go through the reasoning and get to just that – kid doesn’t want to comply.
Mother: “Ok Joseph, I’ll take care of them now then.” Say nothing more, walk away and go do the dishes right then. It will take you 2 minutes. Just do it. Be quiet. Wait. Observe. Don’t pass judgement and don’t resent or become annoyed at your kid.
If Joseph shows up to finish before you complete the task, simply thank him for his willingness to take care of the task (don’t go into helping you out, chipping in, whatever else, just focus on the task, as if it is itself worth valuing), walk away and let him.
If Joseph shows up too late and you’ve already finished, simply tell him as much. “Joseph, I have completed it.” Say nothing more. He gets the point. Trust me. He’s not stupid. You don’t need to add insult. He needs your respect. He gets the point. (Keep reading – don’t tell me that well yeah, he gets the point, that being that if he doesn’t want to do something he can just refuse and mom will do it for him.)
If Joseph doesn’t show at all, fine. Complete the task yourself. Say nothing to him. Don’t resent, don’t reject, and don’t allow him to feel your disapproval at any point.
Make plans for that night’s dinner to be something Joseph really, really likes. Include courses in the meal that go together, but omit one of them. For instance, make macaroni and cheese with ham and apples on the side. Omit the cheese (use butter so it’s palatable, but don’t make it as “good” as normal).
Everyone sits down, your partner knows what’s going on, but other children do not. Everyone, including Joseph begins eating. Someone states that the macaroni tastes different, like it doesn’t have enough cheese.
Mother: “Well, it doesn’t actually have enough cheese because I didn’t have enough time left after taking care of emptying the dishwasher today to give to cutting up enough cheese for our dinner tonight.” Older kid, “Oh come on, it only takes three minutes to empty the dishwasher!” Mother, “Well, yes I know, and Joseph started it and so today it only took me two minutes. It also only takes two minutes to cut up the appropriate amount of cheese, but I allocated those two minutes to the dishwasher instead.” (NOT I had to allocate, I ‘did’ – chose to – simple fact.. NO DIGS at the kid that caused all this – don’t point fingers, ever. And don’t omit so that the opportunity for someone else to opens up. No passive retaliation here.)
Say nothing more about it. If the kids complain about the taste, agree with them. Don’t apologize, don’t lay blame, just agree.
Takes a lot of work… I know. But by doing that work, you’ll grow a whole, confident, capable, and responsible child into an adult that will hopefully continue the work in is own life.
Either the consequences of the act will be enough, or they won’t be- and then a parent’s job becomes to modify the environment or provide supervision until the fascination with the forbidden thing ends.