Friday, February 3, 2012

52 Tool Cards: Natural Consequences

C doesn't like to wear shoes and tends to kick them off as soon as she arrives anywhere indoors.  My mother-in-law, who C calls Beppe (Frisian for grandmother), is very big on shoes, concerned that C will step on something and injure herself, or that in this Central California winter weather, that her feet will be too cold.  As one who can remember loving to go barefoot as a child myself, I'm a little more laid-back about it in general.

The other evening we were preparing to leave from a visit to Pake (Frisian for grandfather) and Beppe's house.  C did not want to put her shoes back on.  She was tired and on the edge of a meltdown.  When Beppe started insisting that C get her shoes on, I said, "You know, they're her feet.  She'll find out pretty quickly that it's cold and that there are leaves and things that might not be comfortable to walk on."

I picked up C's shoes and we headed out the door into the crisp 50 degree evening.  C walked slowly down the first section of the metal wheelchair ramp that covers the porch, making grunts and groans consistent with mild discomfort.  She stopped altogether at the concrete landing before the next section of ramp.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"My feet hurt.  It's cold."

I replied, "I bet this ramp does feel cold on your feet.  That must be uncomfortable.  Would you like to stop and put your shoes on?"  I held them out to her.

C agreed, sat down and put her shoes on.

This illustrates one way to use natural consequences.

Jane Nelsen writes:
Children develop resiliency and capability by experiencing the natural consequences of their choices.

For maximum effectiveness, natural consequences should be accompanied by plenty of empathy, comfort and validation of feelings, but no lectures or "I told you so"s.  Ironically, parental lectures take the child's focus off the lesson intrinsic in their experience.

Jane Nelsen suggests also to avoid rescuing.  I don't believe it was rescuing to have the shoes available for C to change her mind and make a different choice.  She still had to be the one to sit down and put them on.  It was not necessary to force her to walk all the way home barefoot when she already realized that no shoes equals cold feet.

But what if C had not thought it was too cold?  What if she had been perfectly content to walk home barefoot?  As I said to Beppe, they are her feet, attached to her body.  There was no real harm in it or threat to her health and safety, so I would have let her walk home barefoot, and avoided a needless meltdown over something inconsequential.

On the other hand, while there are natural consequences to every action C takes, some are too dangerous for her to experience.  If it had been the peak of the day during one of Central California's blazing hot summers, the metal ramp or concrete step may actually get hot enough to burn the soles of her feet, so I may be more insistent on shoes, and would have chosen a different positive parenting tool for that situation.


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  2. Love this -- I've used the same solution with my kids regarding winter coats. In November or so, if they resisted wearing one, I gave them a choice to wear it or carry it. When it's 40 degrees, they figure out quickly that they'd like to wear the coat! Then in January, there is no resistance. I don't know if you've ever read Love & Logic books, but they use the same techniques, right down to empathy. Thanks for the post!


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