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Natural Consequences

"Kindness in thought leads to wisdom. Kindness in speech leads to eloquence. Kindness in action leads to love." - Lao‑Tsu

"We use natural consequences with our children. My three-year-old never wants to wear a coat in the winter. If we're going somewhere and he refuses, I leave it at home. When my ten year old leaves his roller blades outside, I leave them there so he will see that they can be damaged by the weather and learn to take better care of his things. When I play a game with him and he gets mad, the natural consequence is that I put the game away. How do you handle these kinds of situations?"

If Dagny or Rowan wanted to go outside without a coat in the cold, I would tell her to let me know if she changed her mind and send her out with a kiss. Both of my kids do go out in much less clothing than I would be comfortable in and are perfectly comfortable. I can't feel their bodies. They can.

I would not leave a child's coat at home if we were going somewhere. I used to ask the kids whether they'd like to wear coats. If they said no, I would throw some in the car in case they wanted them later. Now I just keep a bag in the back of the car with sweaters and jackets, so there's always one available if someone wants it. The way I see it, it is my responsibility to meet their needs - clothe them when they are cold, feed them when they are hungry, comfort them when they are sad. The fact that they're not cold now does not mean that they won't be cold later, and it's easy enough to plan for that contingency. Learning to plan for future possibilities is something that comes with time. Until Rowan and Dagny take on that responsibility for themselves, I will happily do it for them.

Being cold because your mother decided not to bring a coat for you so you'd learn a lesson is not a natural consequence. It is a punishment. The thing about natural consequences is that you don't make them happen. They are the consequences that happen naturally. Any time a parent plans for something unpleasant to happen to her child so that she will learn a lesson, it is a punishment.

If you want to have an egalitarian relationship with your children, it is necessary to examine your language very closely. Many times people use euphemisms (particularly for punishment) without even realizing it, and 'natural consequences' seems to be a popular one these days.

If my child left something outside that would be better off indoors, I would bring it in for her. The natural consequence of that is that my children feel loved.

If you do things for your children out of love, they learn to do the same. When Dagny forgets to put her bike away, Jon does it. When Jon left a drink on the counter because he got distracted from getting his dinner, Dagny put it in the refrigerator. Treating children thoughtfully lets them experience good feelings that they're going to want to share with the people they love.

Putting the game away is a consequence you decided on, not a natural consequence. It's a punishment designed to get him to behave in the way you want him to behave.

I like my kids to tell me when they're mad or upset (or happy, or scared, or...). Rowan gets frustrated playing games sometimes. We usually just end up changing the rules to make it more fun - maybe make it a cooperative game instead of a competitive one, or make up something silly to do while we roll the dice. Often she makes up her own rules, and I'm just along for the ride. After all, the point of our playing together is enjoyment. If we're not having fun, something needs to change, and it's not the child.

Instead of focusing on teaching kids a lesson, parents can focus on making their children's lives comfortable and joyful.

Rue Kream is living happily ever after with her husband, Jon, and two children, Rowan and Dagny. She is a passionate advocate of unschooling and respectful parenting.

Excerpted with permission of the author from Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life.