Punishment Vs. Natural Consequences

I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between “Punishment” and “Natural Consequences”.

There are Natural Consequences to the things we do that are unavoidable. But punishment is disconnected.
Having NO consequences is different than having NO punishment.
Natural consequences for our actions are a part of real life.
That may seem like “splitting hairs” but it really isn’t.  The differences are huge.

Punishment is “punitive” it is meant to PUNISH for a wrong doing.
It is not  a natural result of an action, but a disconnected or manufactured action.
For instance, “You were late coming home, so I am taking away your video game time.”  OR “You have to stay in your room”.
There is no connection between the action and the sentence imposed.
That is a punishment.
A NATURAL consequence is quite different.
“You are late coming home, therefore, you cannot go out  tomorrow”.  That is NATURAL consequence of being late.
It connects the action with the consequence.
It makes sense.
Another example might be, if using the computer you go to an inappropriate site, you lose your computer time for a couple of days or you may have to have mom and dad apply a pass code so that you cannot use the computer without supervision.
It is a direct result of misusing the computer.
It is also meant to instruct in the proper way to behave.

If you lie, you might not be believed. That is a NATURAL consequence of lying.  A punishment would be “Because you lied you have to go to your room.”
Once again, for a child with FASD, that would make NO SENSE…. but they CAN connect not being believed if they lie.

If a child refuses to  eat a meal because his favorite item is not being served, the natural consequence of not eating is you will be hungry.
That lesson gets learned very quickly.  🙂

After the consequence is felt, or during the time the consequence is felt,  discussion can happen.  No matter the situation, talking can take place which leads to instruction.
“Do you understand why we are not believing what you have said?”
“If you are not honest, we cannot trust what you say to be true!”
“We want to trust what you say! Encourage! Be positive!
“Let’s practice telling the truth.”  Work on some role play with truth telling.   Talk about honesty and ways to be more honest, or MOST honest.
A fun game could be…. Give a scenario of somebody having to confess something they had done.
Somebody could “lie”, somebody could be “somewhat honest”,”somebody could be more honest”, and somebody could be “MOST HONEST”!  And then discuss what is best, how you feel about being MOST honest  and why.

Role play, even for teens is very important.  You can enact, or reenact scenarios to help them understand and improve on life skills, like telling the truth and being responsible.

For a teen who is less likely to participate in active role play, you can try to talk during a board game like Chess, checkers or backgammon.
Find a way to relax being together, but also a back door way to bring in instruction.  “You were really great playing this game! It is so fun to play when everybody is honest and doesn’t cheat, don’t you think?”

Having NO consequences at all, is not real and can be detrimental for adult life.
If you don’t pay your taxes, there is a direct penalty.  If you speed, you get a ticket or possibly lose your right to drive if you are a minor. If you are late to work, you may be fired.  If you don’t pay your electric bill, they may cut off your electricity.  Those are all natural consequences based upon an action.  As adults, if you do not pay your electric bill, they do not call you and say you have to go to your room, or take away your video games, nor do they say, “It’s ok, just pay it next time.  The result is directly related to your action. NO pay, NO electricity!

Natural consequences are a necessity for teaching life lessons.
Do not be afraid to use natural consequences for teaching lessons with your children.
They are a real part of life.

2 Responses to Punishment Vs. Natural Consequences

  1. MamaV says:

    I have seen so many parents go to great lengths to protect their kids from natural consequences (I.e. Buying their kid a new car after an accident) while imposing fake consequences (grounding!?).
    This is well written.

  2. Jean says:

    One lesson I learned at the Montessori school where I had a brief stint as a teachers’ assistant…was the importance of instilling natural consequences at a very young age (18 mos. – 2). Children this young have difficulty connecting punishment to their actions. Natural consequences make much more sense to them…and they are much more productive at teaching ‘good choices’ and responsibility.
    The lead teacher put it another way: “You can have as much freedom as you can accept responsibility for it.” A child can be free to choose their own work – as long as they accept responsibility for treating it carefully and putting it away properly. A child can be free to open and arrange their own lunch…as long as they can accept the responsibility for cleaning up afterwards…A child is free to play outside…as long as they accept responsibility for coming when they are called…etc.etc.
    Natural consequences tend to reinforce the importance of personal responsibility for our choices/freedoms. A very important lesson for toddlers and teenagers. 🙂

Comments warmly welcomed!


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