1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Natural Consequences – Allow Kids to Face the Consequences

A great way to discipline older children and teens


Portrait of teenage girl (16-19) with friends at p
Jutta Klee/Taxi/Getty Images

Natural consequences can be a great discipline tool to teach children how to make safe and healthy choices. A natural consequence occurs when parents don’t intervene and allow the child to face the consequence that will result directly from the behavior. For example, if you allow a teenager to stay up late, rather than arguing about going to bed, the natural consequence is that he’ll likely feel tired the next day.

Whatever happens after a behavior, rather it is a positive or negative consequence it will influence the likelihood of that behavior being repeated. For example, if a child loses a privilege for not doing his homework, he’ll likely be more motivated to do it the next time. If he receives a reward for completing his homework, he’ll be especially motivated to do his homework again the next day. Natural consequences are a great way to influence the child’s behavior.

Children should receive natural consequences in moderation. Children require other forms of discipline to help them receive guidance and to teach them new skills. Natural consequences should be part of a comprehensive behavior plan and can be combined with many other discipline strategies that help kids learn to become responsible adults.

What Natural Consequences Teach

Natural consequences can help prepare children for the real world. It helps them to start thinking about the possible consequences of their actions as they begin to make decisions for themselves. Natural consequences teach problem-solving and healthy decision making skills and can help parents avoid power struggles.

When kids are spared any natural consequences, they may focus more on their parents’ unwillingness to allow them to do something rather than the natural consequence. For example, a teenager may focus on thinking his mother is mean for not allowing him to stay up late, rather than focusing on the fact that he’ll have difficulty getting up for school on time if he stays up too late.

When to Use Natural Consequences

Natural consequences do not work well on younger children. Really young children lack the ability to understand that the consequence is a direct result of their behavior. To benefit from a natural consequence, a child needs to be able to apply what they’ve learned to their future behaviors. For example, if you let a four-year-old choose his own bedtime he won’t likely relate feeling tired the next day to staying up late and want to go to bed earlier in the future. However, a teenager should be able to do that which makes natural consequences a very effective method for disciplining older teens.

Natural consequences should only be used when safety is not an issue. Don’t allow your child the natural consequence of touching a hot stove so that he’ll learn a lesson. Intervene if your child is likely to get hurt. It is essential that parents place their child’s safety first.

Examples of Natural Consequences

  • Allow a child to go outside without a hat (as long as it is not dangerously cold) and the natural consequence is that he’ll feel cold.
  • Allow a teenager to set his own bedtime and the natural consequence if he stays up too late is that he’ll feel tired the next morning.
  • Allow a child to leave a toy outside and the natural consequence may be that it gets ruined by the elements.
  • Allow a child to spend some of his money as soon as he earns it and the natural consequence is that he may not have enough money to do another activity with his friends.
  • Allow a child to cheat at a game with his brother and the natural consequence is that his brother won’t play with him anymore.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.