Natural impacts (aka Natural consequences)
Many impacts, or consequences, for misbehaviors like disrespect or irresponsibility occur naturally, without the intervention of an adult. We call these “natural impacts.”
For example, if a child has a messy room, she may not be able to find her shoes in the morning before school. If a child hits his brother, he may feel “icky” inside. If a child tells a lie, people won’t be as likely to trust him. By helping my children to understand and experience these natural impacts, I help them learn about the true causes and effects that will follow them into life beyond the walls of our home.
Helping children learn from natural impacts requires two important ingredients:
1. Avoid protecting children from natural impacts. It can be tempting to rush in and “help” my children solve their relational problems or smooth over their missing homework assignments. But if I protect them now, I keep them from learning and preparing for greater challenges later on. It can be difficult to watch them struggle with problems I could easily fix, but natural impacts are powerful learning tools because they help children learn that their problems are theirs, not mine.
2. Facilitate awareness and understanding of natural impacts and rewards. Children can only learn from a natural impact if they learn to stop to think about it and form practical conclusions. Parents facilitate this process by helping children learn to pay attention to their feelings and be internally motivated to change. For example, at age seven our son Noah was frustrated that he didn’t have the money to buy Legos. He whined and begged for me to buy him some. I started to lecture him about whining when I remembered this principle about facilitating awareness of natural impacts. I stopped and empathized: “I know it’s frustrating when you can’t get what you want.” I then used the opportunity to teach. “Your frustration is the natural impact of spending your allowance too fast. I’ll bet next time you’ll work harder to save.”
As an adult, I rarely have other adults give me consequences for my bad behavior. Instead, I tend to feel frustrated, sad, or remorseful when I’ve “misbehaved,” and my awareness of these natural impacts helps motivate me to change. For my children to gain that awareness, I must learn to let them experience the natural impacts of their mistakes so they can learn more effectively. If I do this well, I’ll need to impose consequences far less frequently, and my children will be much better prepared for their future lives.
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