What does it mean? Natural consequences.

What you need to know:

People talk a lot about natural consequences, but I’d like to come at them from a slightly different way. Basically, natural consequences involve children learning from their own mistakes. It involves them learning what happens when… So, if a child forgets their coat, they’ll be cold when they go outside; if they don’t clean their toys, things get lost. 

BUT -- here’s where this can go wrong in so many ways. If we only use natural consequences as a guide, we risk having unrealistic expectations for our children. We also need to consider developmental milestones and how much our child actually understands about what has happened.

Back to our friend who forgot their coat and then was cold the next time they went out. The natural consequence is being cold once; NOT being cold all winter. Not replacing the coat is essentially punishing the child repeatedly for something that happened once. We’ll need to get them another coat. 

Same with toys and clean up. The natural consequence of not cleaning up is that those toys got put away and are not available right now. NOT that the toys are in the trash or got given away or are never to be played with again.

In some ways, natural consequences are a piece of the “the punishment must fit the crime” puzzle. The more often we can allow our children to experience the natural consequence of their actions and then help them move one from it, the better.

The hard part about using natural consequences is that we have to let the mistake happen in order for our child to learn the consequences. This is SO hard! We want to protect our kids; we want to nurture them and help them. Letting them fail and experience something “bad” can feel like exactly the wrong thing to do. And yet, there will be times when that is exactly the right thing to do.

Let’s take an example that’s near and dear to my heart: wearing crocs to school. My daughter’s preschool had a “no crocs” on the playground policy, so in the morning before school, I would put on her sneakers and off we’d go. One day, she put on her crocs and would not take them off. “No, I wear crocs to school”, she said. You’ve been here! You review your options (all bad), you look at the time (running late), you remember that 9:30 meeting that you have, and you say, “you can’t wear crocs to school”, at which point she goes nuclear.

Here’s where using natural consequences could have come in (but - full disclosure - they didn’t). I could have said, “the rule is no crocs at school, so if you wear them to school, you won’t be allowed on the playground”. She might then have changed shoes OR NOT. If not, then she would have arrived at school with “inappropriate footwear” and not been allowed on the playground (if everyone was doing their job).  My problem would have been solved: no tantrum for me and sneakers on feet forever more. She would have learned the “why” behind the “no crocs” rule (or at least, would have learned the rule), and all would have been well.

As it was, I dragged a screaming child off to school with sneakers in my hand and let her teachers deal with the fallout. I had a meeting to get to.

Has this been you? Could using natural consequences helped you and your child? How have you used natural consequences in the past? I’d love to hear.

All my best,


PS - if you’re ready to learn how to implement some positive discipline and use natural consequences but aren’t sure how, you can access my Toddler Talk Online program for parents here: