Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Natural Consequences Just Aren't Enough Discipline

This could be a tricky post to write. But I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

There are a number of means and methodologies about disciplining children. Some people believe in corporeal punishment. Some people think it's child abuse. Some people believe in exclusively reasoning with a child. Others swear that's completely ineffective.

I don't think there is any one correct way to discipline children. I mean, personalities are so different and what works for one child may not work for another.

We only have two children and by far do not consider ourselves child-rearing experts no matter how awesome we think our kids are (and they are, by the way).  But even across our two offspring, we see two very different people and have learned that two very different types of punishment are required to be effective for our children.

Our older, more passive people-pleasing child just gets upset at the idea that you are mad or upset with him. A stern look is enough to put him in line and when things are really bad - time out. That's all he has ever required.

Our spitfire little princess who is strong willed, very opinionated, and not swayed by what anyone else wants or thinks requires a totally different form of punishment because you cannot make the child sit in time out short of tying her to the chair (which no, we do not do).

Our son's school however introduced us to the concept of Natural Consequences.  Let me rephrase that. They introduced us to the terminology "Natural Consequences" as a form of punishment. We already incorporated them into our strategy without realizing it was a whole concept of discipline.

The gist of it is this: let whatever could happen actually happen and let the child learn from their mistakes. (Exception of course: If it is a safety issue, take them away from the situation but give some form of discipline that matches the crime). For instance, if a child doesn't eat their dinner, they go hungry for the evening.  If they are playing with a toy incorrectly after being redirected, let them break it. If they are leaning back in their chairs, let them fall.

I have to say, it can be very effective.

But not always.

Here's the deal, at least in my eyes:  there are some areas where natural consequences are perfect.  If you tell them that they might pop a balloon they are playing with and they continue to do so, let them pop it and then be upset about it. If they draw on the walls with crayons, they should have to clean the walls off themselves. Those natural consequences work beautifully.

But they also need to know that there are times in life when the punishment may not be equal to the crime - it might be much, much worse.

As a small child, if they shoplift, they should not only not get to keep the items, but they should be mad to  return the items to the store with a full apology in person to the owner/manager. If they are older and shoplift, I think it is awesome when I've seen kids have to stand outside the store they stole from with a big sign indicating "I SHOPLIFTED FROM THIS STORE" or something similar. Shame can be a powerful teacher and deterrent.

If a child is continually running late, a natural consequence might be for them to miss the activity to which they were supposed to be getting ready. However, this may not be possible. It might be an event that the whole family is required to attend. It might not be effective. It might not be an event they wanted to go to in the first place and therefore, this would not be punishment for them. Instead, maybe they could use some of their precious free time to help you clean the house. Put them to work. Some sweat and hard work in a task that they see no value in will be torture to them. Will this be abusing your power as a parent?  Some people would think so, but not me. Nope - I get a semi-clean house out of it AND they are miserable as they "serve their time."

Here's the deal:  As an adult if either of the above scenarios happen, consequences much worse than the natural ones will occur and that former child needs to understand that they have to follow rules or be subject to the ruling authorities.  In the former case, a shoplifting adult goes to jail and/or pays a large fine. Much worse than being made to the return the items. In the latter, an adult who is continually late for work not only does not get paid for that day (natural consequence) but could easily get fired if it is a recurring problem for them, which is worse than not getting paid for that particular day.

My point is this - natural consequences do have a place in the discipline spectrum. But they should not be the driving force in all instances. I feel that children need to be made to listen to their authorities (parents, teachers, etc) and obey just because those are the rules. It's life. It's reality. And if they are not taught this at a young age, they will be challenging that authority time and time again as an adult. And those consequences can be severe.


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