You may have heard of the idea of disciplining through "natural consequences" or have tried it with your own kids. You may also have found that doing this consistently and effectively is challenging! As Circle of Moms members Melanie S. and Mia explain it, “[The consequences] need to directly relate to the behavior itself." For example, shares Mia, if your child "keeps pushing buttons on the TV. . . .no TV for the rest of the day." If he's pushing chairs up to a desk and climbing on the chairs, "the chairs get taken away." While it makes a lot of sense, it's not always easy to be that serenely logical in the heat of the moment.
With preparation though, it comes more readily. To help you get started, here are four common kid misdeeds and the natural consequences that other Circle of Moms members recommend for them. The report from the front lines is that everyday missteps like the ones below are golden opportunities for teaching kids to be more responsible.
1. Leaving Behind Messes
Putting your kids in charge of picking up their toys and keeping their rooms clean is a perfect opportunity for “consequences, not punishment,” says Melanie S. The example she shares, and that others have put into action, is telling your kids, “If you don't pick up your toys when I ask, we will put them in a bag and give them to Good Will.”
Eliza A. is one mom who has actually followed through. Her house rule is that "everyone cleans up their own mess and takes it up to their room. If they leave things overnight, it will get taken away or donated to [the] Salvation Army." Each of her three children have seen their toys disappear forever: “We stay true to what we say and they are very quick to not leave any messes around the house because they are afraid it will get taken away or donated, and we have done it several times.”
Other moms deal with mess-leaving by giving kids choices. As a member named Sarah explains, "If my kids refuse to pick up their toys, I tell them: ‘We can't go outside until you pick up your toys.’ To me this is a natural consequence because we adults have to finish our chores before we can play, or tidy up after ourselves before engaging in another activity." Her kids are also not allowed to play in another room until they tidy up the room they've just been playing in. "I will ask them if their bedroom is clean. If they say 'no,' I say, ‘We have to tidy up our bedroom before we can play in another room.' I believe wording is key. I am not demanding for them to tidy up. I am leaving the ball in their court to decide for themselves. If they'd like to play in the living room, they have to tidy their room first.”
When the messes involve crumbs, snack wrappers, and pop bottles scattered across the rug or couch, several Circle of Moms members, including Cynthia S. and Eliza A., have used natural consequences to train their kids to handle the clean-up. Cynthia asks her 14-year-old son once "and only once." As she explains, "When he is asked to do something (dishes, pick up after himself, whatever) [we] ask once, then let it go. If he does it, great. If not, I do it myself and make a note. Then, when something [comes] up that he wants to do, the answer [is] ‘no sorry you didn't (do the dishes when I asked etc.).'" She adds that she and her husband explained this to him before they started so that he could get on board.
2. Refusing to Eat or Leaving the Dinner Table
Joining the family for dinner – and staying put until mom or dad declare it's time to clean up and start washing dishes – is a tug-of-war in many households. But many moms who prioritize gathering the family at the end of the day, including Gretchen A. and Katherine C., insist that their kids sit at the table during the whole meal. When Gretchen's 7-year-old son can't manage it he loses other privileges.
The natural consequences Katherine uses are logically linked to the behavior: when her son jumps up and races away, his opportunity to eat vanishes just like he does: “If he keeps leaving the table while eating, the food gets taken away regardless of whether he was done or not,” she says. Another logical consequence she employees is telling him: “You didn’t eat the dinner that was made for you, so you must make yourself some food if you don’t want to go to bed hungry.”
3. Deliberate Destruction
When their kids throw toys, slam doors, or otherwise break things out of anger or carelessness, Circle of Moms members Mia and Letitia J. use natural consequences to teach that these things cost money. Mia recommends getting very specific: “Let's say he is throwing toys...[the] natural consequence [is that] mom takes the toys away."
Letitia's method is a little more abstract: when her son requests toys, books, and ice cream, she explains that she can't buy them because she's using that money to replace items he's ruined in the past. "Children forget certain things they have done very quickly," she explains, and pointing out the natural consequences of their destructive behavior not only reminds them, but teaches "the value of things.”
4. Breaking TV or Internet Rules
Many Circle of Moms members, including Lisa and Monica T., have strict rules for Internet and TV use, and when they discover that their rules are being violated they take away access to these devices. Lisa emphasizes that what you take away should relate directly to the misdeed. As she explains, "Our foster teen was caught on his computer between 12 midnight and 2:30 a.m. He was warned many times and even laughed at another person for being grounded for the same," so they changed his wifi password and cut off his access for a period of time.
Monica does the same, stepping it up if her kids are not responsive: “First, I take each item away one at a time for the rest of the day: computer, video gaming, TV," but if her kids continue to break the rules, she adds on additional days. She once removed all three items for an entire week, but reports that this changed her son's attitude "pretty quickly.”
Should You Let Your Child Decide?
Although she says it might seem unconventional, Sarah N. says with older kids (age eight and up), she leaves it to her daughter to determine the appropriate consequence for a particular misbehavior. “Kids start testing their limits. . . .When my child does something wrong I ask her what she thinks her punishment should be. This doesn't always work but many times she is much harder on herself than I would ever be."
What natural consequences do you impose for minor offenses?
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