Raising children: The difference between adult imposed will and natural consequences

5 min readSep 7, 2018

I’ve been getting feedback from some readers of my article from a few days ago, “Punishment is a terrible substitute for interpersonal skills”. One reader said that there needs to be “consequences” for kids for certain behavior. Well, there are always consequences.

The problem is often that parents think they need to be the consequence, and they don’t need to be. No matter what we do, there are natural consequences to our actions. This is something I explain to my kids all the time.

Here’s an example. One of my kids (the younger one) is a bit of a daredevil and she likes to stand up on high places, usually one or more feet above the ground. If I see danger to what she is doing, I point that out. “That floor is really hard, dear. If you fall, you will feel pain.” And she knows what pain is. So she stands down and finds something else to do. This is because she has fallen before and she knows what pain is, by her own hand.

There is another form of consequences that parents often play with their kids: boundaries. With the advent of cell phones, we now have one more shiny, pretty thing that kids want to touch and admire. I have seen parents leave their cell phone where their kid can reach it and then when the kid does reach for it, they smack the kid’s hand. Is smacking a kid’s hand for touching a cell phone a natural consequence?

Physical punishment doesn’t actually teach boundaries, that teaches obedience. I don’t want obedience from my kids. Teaching obedience to kids will only make them vulnerable to peer pressure at school. So I teach boundaries.

When my kids were young, I knew they would want to play with my phone. So I always made sure that I kept it out of their reach. I made sure they saw me put it up high beyond their reach, as well. I was, and have always been clear on setting boundaries with my phone.

I don’t leave anything laying around for temptation to test them, either. If I don’t want my kids playing with something like a lighter or scissors, I keep it either hidden or out of reach. Even if I happen to lapse on keeping my phone out of reach, and they do get their hands on my phone, I don’t yell at them. I just quietly ask them for my phone back and usually, they give it to me with, without resistance. I don’t even punish them for touching my phone. Unless what they’re holding is truly dangerous, I ask for it rather than take it from their hands.

The reason I don’t punish my kids for touching my phone is because I don’t want to be the consequence for their action. I don’t want to be the consequence for their actions because I can’t be around them all the time. I want them to think for themselves. I want them to be internally motivated to do the right thing.

I also want my kids to know that they should only touch what belongs to them or is shared by the family. So when they have my phone, I remind them that that is my phone and that I want it back. I do so without threats and without being threatening. I just ask for it nicely, and I do so consistently. Over time, there is less and less of an issue with them reaching for and getting my phone. And now that they’re old enough and tall enough to get to it most of the time, they still don’t touch my phone without asking my permission.

See, kids can’t think in fear. Consider your own experience with fear, even as an adult. Do you use logic when you’re in fear, or do you retreat and surrender to your cerebellum? If your answer is the latter, then imagine how kids feel with pure unadulterated feelings at full strength when confronted by you.

I want higher order thinking from my kids, so I avoid using fear to get what I want. I appeal to their logic by using language and talking with them. I appeal to their desire to cooperate. Cooperation is the foundation skill of all humanity, so I teach that every day.

I like to play with my kids, too. Sometimes we roughhouse a bit, but I keep it as safe as possible. And sometimes, they think that hopping on pop is OK, when in fact, that can be painful. When they do something that hurts me, and I feel pain, I let them know. Here I appeal to their sense of empathy. And they honor that.

My experience has taught me that natural consequences are a better teacher that adult imposed will as consequences. By directing the attention of my kids to natural consequences, I divert attention from me and direct it to their own actions and what can possibly result from their own actions. This allows them to use their own heads to judge the risk of a negative consequence from their own actions. Directing their attention to negative or positive consequences instills a greater sense of autonomy in my kids. I want my kids to think for themselves, not for me, even when they already have a strong sense to think of me.

I want my kids to be motivated internally to do the right thing. Punishment discourages that kind of attitude. I want my kids to be resistant to peer pressure and to make their decisions based on being considerate of others. Punishment says don’t think for yourselves. Natural consequences says, think for yourself, for I cannot be around you all the time to think for you.

In a world where corruption is rampant in the halls of power, I want to build a world we can truly call, “civilized”. I want my kids to live in a world where people comport themselves based on cooperation, empathy and trust. What you have read above is a small part of how I build that world. I build that world for myself and my kids by living the example. I am the change I want to see.

Write on.

Originally published at steemit.com on September 7, 2018.