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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111

Parenting Q&A
12 Things Great Parents Do:
Use Natural Consequences

Loving our children comes naturally, but the art of parenting is a skill, and like any other skill it must be learned and practiced mindfully. Part of Habitot’s commitment to our community is to support parents in the crucial and precious task of raising young children.

For 2010-2011 we are expanding on parenting wisdom from local psychotherapist and parent coach Dr. Erica Reischer who has composed a list of “10 Things Great Parents Do.” We are adding two “great things” or our own and each month we’ll share research and our observations of tens of thousands of visiting families to illustrate how using the “great things” list will for work you and your child.

This month’s topic: Harness the power of natural consequences.  Let kids experience the natural consequences of their actions or choices (unless health or safety is a risk). Natural consequences make intuitive sense to children and can therefore be powerful teachers.  They can occur when parents do not intervene in a situation but allow the situation to teach the child.

For example, if your child keeps throwing her food on the floor, she will soon have no more food left to eat. If she breaks a toy, she will no longer have that toy to play with. If parents do not ‘rescue’ the child by providing more food or purchasing a new toy, the message will heard.

However, the art of not intervening is sometimes easier said than done. It’s often helpful to give information, like “if you throw all your food on the floor, you’ll be hungry because there won’t be any more.” Parents have to remain emotionally detached and there can’t be a hint of humiliating the child when things don’t work out for him. Parents have to be mindful of what they say and their tone of voice. For example, rubbing it in by saying “that’s what you deserve, or I told you so,” is just mean.

Here are some tips on using natural consequences:

    • To help your child make good choices, tell him in advance what you would like to see from him and what the natural consequence of his actions may be if he makes other choices. If he still makes a poor decision, clearly explain the reason why the consequence is the result of his choice, then let him learn from the experience.
    • Don't protect or rescue your child from the natural consequences her actions. Respect her right to make choices, and accept the results of those choices. Experiencing a little hunger will teach her not to throw her food on the floor much better and faster than your constant reminders or unrelated punishments will.
    • In cases where the natural consequence is too dangerous or impractical to allow (such as being hit by a car for running out in the street), try a "logical consequence" instead - one that is directly related to the offense. A child who cannot be trusted not to dash out into the street, for instance, has to hold on to their parent's hand or belt loop the entire time they're out on their next outing.
    • Teach by example. Children are the world's greatest imitators, and they act out what they see their elders doing. When you make a mistake, own up to it, apologize, accept the consequences graciously, and let your child see that you, too, are human. That goes a long way to show your child the reality that we all make mistakes, and have to learn from them.
    • Remember that natural consequences can reinforce positive behaviors as well as be a deterrent of negative behavior. Babies learn to trust others to meet their needs when adults respond to their cries by feeding and bathing them, changing their diapers, playing with them, and cuddling them closely.

The use of natural and logical consequences helps your child develop responsibility and promotes self-awareness.  It also helps maintain a positive relationship between you and your child by not making you the “bad guy” who always sets all the rules.  Ultimately, it creates adults with a strong understanding of the world around them and the discipline to live well in that world.

To see the complete list of “10 Things Great Parents Do” or to learn more about Dr. Erica Reischer, please visit her website at www.DrEricaR.com. You can also get a hard copy of the handout in the purple parenting cart in the museum.

Parenting Resources

Ken West, Ph.D. The Shelbys Need Help: A Choose-Your-Own-Solutions Guidebook for Parents. Impact Publishers: Atascadero, CA. 2000.

Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Natural and Logical Consequences in Early Childhood. 2008. Mental Help Web Site: http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=14331&cn=462

Letting Natural Consequences Do Their Thing. 2010. Parent Further Web Site: http://www.parentfurther.com/resources/enewsletter/archive/natural-consequences

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