Natural Consequences?

I was in another team meeting the other day discussing the significant behaviour challenges of one of my 11 year old clients.

The behaviour therapist was asking the child’s Mom about the consequences that she gives her son for these behaviours.

Long story short, the answer was none.

The behaviour therapist leaned a little forward in her chair and shared these words of wisdom: “You know consequences really shape behaviour.”

She then went on to explain how children need consequences and need to know what the consequences are, so they can make better choices by thinking about the consequences.

I totally agree with her line of thinking. I am a firm believer in consequences. Natural consequences are often the best. I don’t like the word “punishment” as that implies that someone else is doing something to you. “Consequence” is the natural fall out of doing something or not doing something.

I guess her statement hit me, as I have been struggling with the idea of consequences recently.

I mean, I can tell my kids there are consequences to their actions and they will have to live with the consequences etc. and I believe it.

But do I  really think about the consequences to MY actions now?  Do I really believe that certain consequences will happen, and does that really shape my behaviour now? The natural fall out of the things I do now might have consequences on me and my family later – but do I give that enough weight? Or do I just go with what feels right now?

What about the consequences of others that end up falling on me, or my kids? How do you deal with the natural consequences from other people’s decisions? Do you try to compensate or make up for the consequences that other people get or give? Do you become victim to them? Do you fight them?

I’ll give you an example with what I am struggling with.

It goes back to divorce (oh my, everything can go back to divorce).

When I divorced, I stayed in my neighborhood. My ex CHOSE to move to a different neighborhood. It was purely his decision and at the time I was happy not to see him around my hood. But, I knew that eventually, him living away would be a pain as my kids got older.

Fast forward a few years later and he has moved multiple times, but each time to neighborhoods that are not super close by. In his most recent move I mentioned to him that he might consider a neighborhood that was a bit closer to us as the kids would be getting older and wanting more independence, wanting to be with their friends more, closer to school for activities etc.

Now, I know I have no say in where he lives. He obviously chose to live where he chose to live. But, sure enough, I curse where he lives when I sit in traffic every Friday night to bring the boys out to him (luckily I only do it once per week – he does it multiple times) and he is starting to feel the frustration too because the boys are starting to complain more, and need to be at activities earlier and later so not living around the corner becomes a bigger challenge. So, the consequences of his choice, are ones that we all have to endure.

It’s the exact same situation for Rob’s kids as their Mom lives in a different neighbourhood too. So on “her days”, they don’t get to hang around with their friends after school, they have to endure the back and forth driving, they have to be picked up at times (sometimes leaving school early) to accommodate a driving schedule. And it makes me crazy when they hear how much gas it takes to drive them around to all the places they want to go that are near their school neighbourhood (which is our neighbourhood). You spend the gas because you chose to live where you chose to live!

I know these are petty little examples, but they keep coming up!

And this bugs me. It bugs me that someone else makes choices that affect our lives or the lives of our children. It bugs me that sometimes I will “warn” my kids or someone else about the inevitable consequences and they make the choice anyways and then come to me to try to fix it. Or come to me to try to make it better or to compensate for it.

And trust me, I know that I make choices too where other people have to pick up the slack, or my kids pay the price. We all do. I guess it is part of “life is not always fair.” (But today, I’m pouring my heart out about what bugs me – but I did want to acknowledge that I recognize that someone else may be complaining about me!)

I know this is a bit of a whiny post, but I question what to do in some cases? Do you just say “I told you so” to the other party and let them suck it up and deal with whatever consequences they have? Or do you try to make it better for them by compensating and fixing things? Will they learn if you compensate? Is it your place to make sure they learn?

If I warn you: if you eat that, you will be sick – do I stay up all night comforting your aching belly? If I warn you: if you don’t save your money, you will have no money to spend – do I pay for things when you have no money at a later date? If I warn you that: that kid is going to hurt you, do I seek revenge on them with you when they do hurt you or feel sorry for you?

Where do you draw the line between letting consequences play out naturally, versus being a safety net for someone? Where do you draw the line between compensating for someone else’s choices, or smiling and saying “karma”?

Just a little something I have been struggling with.


Natural Consequences? — 41 Comments

  1. This sentence really got me. “It bugs me that someone else makes choices that affect our lives or the lives of our children.” Because yes, 100 million times, yes. The stuff that affects me, fine. It is annoying, but I will deal with it. However, when it affects my children. No, thank you. Loved this post.-Ashley

  2. I am just starting to have to get into the whole consequences conversations with my kids as they are getting older and I always wonder too where do you draw the line. But in your case, that would so frustrate me to have to sit in traffic and you are right as the kids are getting older it must totally be a hassle on all ends to have to take this extra time traveling back and forth. Wish I had a more clear cut answer, but just wanted to say I see your frustrations and hope you can find a btter solution if possible,.

    • So important to teach kids early about consequences – good or “bad”. They need to see that the choices they make DO matter. Thanks for your support:)

  3. Everyone does have to deal with the consequences of their own actions. And sometimes, we do have to deal with the consequences of someone else’s actions- I hate it, it’s not fair, but it’s also, unfortunately, the way the cards fall.

  4. I can so relate! My step-son’s mom chose to live in a neighborhood about 45 minutes away from us and it was a constant battle for so long! My husband suffered the consequences of not being able to see his son more or go to his activities as often (or even coach his teams as he wanted to!) because of the distance coupled with work priorities. We did the best we could with it but we didn’t see him much once he went to high school. The day he got his license was amazing and we got to see him a lot more. Now he’s off to college and we never see him!! It ebbs and flows but I feel for you on this…I really do!

  5. I think that consequences are huge in our lives – every action has some type of consequence. When the boys were little we used to tell them that bad actions/choices have bad consequences (I know lots of people frown on the use of “bad” with behavior but they were little and needed simple terms) – they understood it meant if they chose to disobey they would have a consequence they wouldn’t like.
    And I’m with you the consequences of other people’s choices/actions often seem unfair to us – a prime example in my life – the Government Shut-Down.

  6. Scarlet is getting to understand consequences better. It’s so hard for me to teach her about them, as I am a work-in-progress myself. Ugh. I get it, though. And it’s tough to see people we love, or at least have to live with, making choices and actions that affect many.

  7. I love this post- and that just SUCKS that you have to endure- and your KIDS, the choices of their parents. I would be so pissed about driving so far and dealing with the consequences of THEIR choices. Ugh.
    I like natural consequences best for my kids- but I have found that BOTH intended consequences and natural work well together. I have a point system in my house that I PRAY finally works!! Lord knows I have tried EVERYTHING! here’s how it goes:
    My kids have up to 15 points for the week. If they miss ONE thing that is expected of them, they get a point. IE: Put things away, clear plates, brush teeth, get dressed, do homework, ETC. Basics!!! (So this shouldn’t be hard! Oh but it is) If they get 15 points, then right now their consequence is grounding on Sunday, with early bedtime. BOTH are very valuable to them. I always use the consequence that speaks to them in whatever phase they are in. So far, after a month, it’s working!! And AND I don’t get as mad- I simply say “there’s a point”. they HATE getting points! I got tired of yelling at them to do things I have TAUGHT them to do for YEARS. I don’t remind them of anything a hundred times anymore either. As I told them, they are old enough to know what to do. I am too tired of telling them over and over again! Natural consequences? Late to school, homework not done, not playing because they have to put their things away- etc. Those are always a good ‘lesson’. 🙂

    • I agree – with kids, you often need a combination. Your system sounds great!!! I love that it removes you from being in the position of nagging – you aren’ t the constant bad guy! Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Oh this is a great post. I think most of us have experienced similar frustration and know exactly where you’re coming from (and that it’s not from a “whiny” place). The back and forth shuttling after divorce is hard enough when you’re somewhat close. Throw in a little distance and it’s a downright headache. Maybe if he “suffers” through it on his own he’ll choose to move a little closer next time. Good luck!

    stopping in from PYHO

    • yes, the back and forth is a big stress on everyone involved in divorce – especially the kids who are the innocent bystanders to start with! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. You raise some tough questions, Leah. Where do you draw the line? My first instinct as a mom is to “rescue” my kids and spare them the consequences of their actions, but I have to stop and think about whether I’m doing them any favors. I won’t always be there to bail them out. Lots of food for thought – great post!

    • It’s such a fine line. I, too, have to ask myself what is best in the long run. Sometimes it hurts to allow the consequences to happen in the short term, but it’s for the best longer term.

  10. This is such a good post with hard questions! I like for my kids to have consequences and sometimes they need to learn that there are consequences for things that maybe they were only indirectly involved in, like that football team that was benched by their coach. It’s a hard lesson to learn. I’m not a big fan of bailing my kids, because it’s something they need to be able to deal with later in life!

  11. Such a great post…so much I could comment on, but I think I’ll stick to this; with kids, yes, sometimes you do help them endure the consequences (eg staying up with them when they are sick) and sometimes you don’t (no money= no things unless it’s a necessity) and you let them know that sometimes you just have to deal and it stinks (the consequences of divorce). It’s a judgement call, but we all do the best we can!

  12. Whew…. this is a lot to digest and ponder over. We want to help people. I would hope that is part of the natural consequences, to want to help one another… not gloat over the “told you so” and not just allow someone to fail when we could have protected them.

    I think there’s a major difference when it comes to adults and children though – children need the protection. First and foremost – protection for children. Adults know better or should at least. That’s where the problem comes in… there’s a fine line between helping and enabling. When a pattern arises, that’s when we should back off and let nature teach the lessons.

    I’m doing this on a very small scale with my son. He likes to sit up and is doing better about it unassisted. When he starts to lean over too far, I want to catch him, so he does plant his face in the floor (don’t worry, we have soft mats on the floor to protect him from harm). I’ve had to stop myself and allow him to go forward, face to the floor. Then I pick him up and he looks at me like, “Why didn’t you stop me?” But now, he is starting to stop himself from leaning forward.

    Help, in small doses, at the right time… it’s a hard call to make… and I’m sure I’ll be over protective… a “helicopter mom”… but I’m trying to catch myself and do what’s right by my son.

    • Yes! We want to be compassionate and kind, but not rob our loved ones of the experiences that may teach them things in preparation for harder challenges later on. Such a balance!

  13. What a great thought-provoking post, Leah. I do think a lot about consequences because I see it every day in my clients. Some enable their kids while others are the enabled kids. Some think long and hard about the consequences of their decisions while I decide things on a whim without concern about any consequence. And it’s hard. It’s so hard to know what we need to let people experience the consequence of their action and when we need to save them from the consequence. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer – just lots of gray areas. As much as possible, I do try to let my daughters experience the consequence of their choices because I know I learn from mistakes and hope they do too.

    • Yes, lots of gray, that is for sure! It’s true that we have to make sure that we are not enabling or being enabled. That is such a disservice!

  14. i have a friend (a consultant) who says that whenever we complain…guess whose fault it is. yep, it’s our own fault. hate your job? who’s fault is that? is it your boss? is it the job? nope, it’s yours. it’s yours because you have the wherewithal to make changes and do something about it. i really try to take this to heart and make positive changes vs thinking of consequences.

  15. I am totally dealing with this right now. I mean, I am frustrated and I open this up to see you are going through the same thing. My in-laws CHOSE to live in Florida for the winter months and then complain that they never get to see their grandkids. It makes me insane and somehow I am always the bad guy because I won’t drop everything when they are back here.

    • That is EXACTLY what I am talking about!!!!! So do you let the consequences fall where they may – you just won’t get to see your grandkids as often – or do you “compensate” – drop everything to accomodate them??? You DO look like the bad guy in their eyes! But it was THEIR choice!!! Argh!!!!

  16. I feel like I am in the opposite situation of you. I am the one who picked up and moved a long way away from my ex husband. And my decision affects everyone. It affects my ex and his ability to see the kids on a regular basis and it certainly affects my children as well. However, I made the decision based on other factors, namely financial ones, that left me very few choices to stay in New Jersey and be able to raise my children in a comfortable manner. So, Yes, I can justify what I did, however, others have to pay the price. I have been on the other side of the coin as well, where I have picked up the pieces that someone else dropped yet I am left having to compensate for their actions. This is a great discussion and I think always many sides and points of view to be considered.

    • Yes, so very true. We are ALL on both sides of the coin. We all make decisions that affect others. I think the key thing, as you said, was you have to be able to make these decisions with careful consideration and careful thought. We need to always be conscious of what the consequences will be for ALL the choices – but that doesn’t meant that there will be an easy choice, or a clear choice, or one that won’t affect others. We make the BEST choice we can, based on what we have to work with. I think it’s very different however when someone makes a decision without evaluating the consequences — which sometimes happens (and I know I am guilty of this too)

  17. My stepson decided to come live with us – a cool 1,000 miles away from his mom. My girls dad actually moved closer – but is still about 1,000 miles away.
    We moved for financial reasons (my job promotion) out to Phoenix and it sucks that other people have to deal with that.
    BUT! We were a military family so we never have lived close to either of the other parents after the divorces – they both chose to move further away.
    My husband spent years thousands of miles from his son because he couldn’t move close and his ex moved 9 states away.
    My ex-husband decided to move 7 states away after our divorce and I was still on active duty and couldn’t (nor would I) move closer to him.
    It stinks.
    But – the kids are seeing the delayed consequences of other peoples actions and how it affects not only one or two people – but everyone involved. It isn’t a “this isn’t hurting anyone” thing – they see that what people do has real consequences.
    As far as letting the kids experience natural consequences – I am a proponent of this. My husband is more of the helicopter parent. For instance, bedtime. He says they must be sleeping by a certain time. I don’t think it is worth the fight. They can stay up as late as they want – but they have to wake up on time in the morning. Then they spend the day being tired. They may fail a test or whatnot at school. Which results in more consequences. All because they didn’t go to sleep at a decent time.
    Of course, I am not going to let them leap onto a hot stove just so they realize that the stove is hot. Safety first. But there are things that are better to let them learn from experience. Telling them is only going to go so far. Yes, we know what will happen – but they don’t believe us. Sometimes, they just have to learn it themselves.

  18. Oh Leah, I can really relate to this post! With my kids I also prefer discipline to be tied to natural consequences, but I don’t know what to do when I see them disregard my advice, either. For example, one of our kids recently wanted to audition for a local theatrical production, and we kept saying that she needed to practice, practice, practice for the audition, because she would be up against tons of competition. She kind of blew us off and didn’t practice much at all, and now it doesn’t look like she’s going to get a part. It’s hard to be as sympathetic when you see that your child didn’t listen to you or try their hardest! And yet, as a parent I feel like I’m supposed to ALWAYS sympathize, even when I’ve warned the children of the consequences of their actions in advance!

  19. Wow. I agree that consequences help to shape future behavior. But in terms of the example you gave, I can see how certain consequence can have collateral damage. I think there has to be balance…and certain consequence may be unavoidable. It sounds like it may not be the most comfortable situation especially with the commute, but kudos to you for making it work in spite of. Hopefully, one day he’ll move a bit closer.

  20. This is a deep post, Leah! We do have to deal with the consequences of our actions. Of course, others may not realize how those consequences affect others, nor do we sometimes I’m sure. You just got my mind going in all different directions. Great post!

  21. Thought-provoking, Leah.
    I think big decisions do require us to think of the consequences not just for ourselves and our children, but to the other people in the periphery of our lives. The question then becomes – if the effect is adverse for other parties but not for us, what do we do? Are their lives and convenience more important than our own or our children’s? And what if it’s the other way round?

    I guess there is no ‘right’ answer. We just have to do what we feel is right there and then. I’m sorry you’re struggling with this right now.

  22. No matter who initiates the consequence, one thing is for sure: We all must deal with it. How will we? If my daughter eats too much ice cream, despite my warning, she will suffer a consequence. I have a choice: I can close the door and say, “you didn’t listen, take care of yourself,” or, I can take care of her after she’s suffered the consequence. I have the power not to change the consequence, but to set in motion an example of how to deal with things we could not stop from happening.
    Eli@coachdaddy recently posted…Go Ask Daddy About Rock Bands, All Things Plush and College PucksMy Profile

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