The power of natural consequences in getting your child to listen



For many reasons, including safety, it’s important you know your children will, when necessary, do what you ask, when you ask.

What should you do when your child ignores you or does the opposite of what you ask?

Is there really an effective way to get kids to do what they’re asked?

There is, the key is to use natural consequences. 

Not punishment, not anger, not nagging but natural consequences.

"Isn't that just another (nicer)way of saying punishment? What's the difference?"

“If you don’t sit down in the bath, we won’t go to the playground tomorrow”.  Sitting in the bath has nothing at all to do with going to the playground, and so it is a punishment and not a natural consequence.

Natural consequence look like this: 

This bath-time example explains the approach very clearly and once you understand the principle you can use it in many different situations.

Here's the scene: It's bath-time, you have been concerned about the child standing up and jumping about in the bath, you constantly ask them to sit done but nothing happens or they jump straight up again.

You know it’s dangerous and you know that when in the bath the child must sit.

How then to implement this using a natural consequences approach?

When getting your child ready for the bath state clearly that when in the bath the child must sit. 

Once that direction has been given what happens if they continue to stand?

Using natural consequences the child, if not sitting, gets out. 

So let's look in a little more detail as to how a natural consequence might work in this practical example.

The Bath example

Before the child gets into the bath you explain that you have decided that when in the bath they must sit.

For example, "sweetheart when you get into the bath you must sit down (as it's slippery and therefore dangerous...)" make eye contact and touch the child gently ensuring that you are connecting and engaging with the child.

Put the child into the bath and if they are standing wait a few moments and then say " remember what I said about sitting down?  Would you like me to help you sit down or can you sit down all by yourself?"

Again wait a moment for the child to respond, if nothing happens ask , "have you decided to get out now?" If they continue to stand remove them from the bath. Do it gently and kindly.

Here is where tone is really, really important, do not admonish the child, merely acknowledge their decision. "OK you decided to have a very short bath tonight so let's get you dried and dressed in your pyjamas so we can choose a story (or whatever is the routine)"

The child is not being punished

The child is not being punished, the parent is accepting the child’s decision to get out. The parent’s decision is that the children may not stand in the bath.

If your little one screams and wants to get back into the bath you can on night one or two as they are learning the new routine pleasantly say something like ..."Oh you would like to sit down in the bath, let's try that shall we?"  This only applies on night one and two (at most).

On subsequent nights do not give a 'chance' as this will just become the established routine just say pleasantly "oh bath time is finished tonight,  you can decide tomorrow if you want to sit and play in the bath"… then move on quickly to the next part of your evening routine. 

Don't go on about it, don't explain it all over again, move on - all the while keeping a light pleasant tone.

The next evening start anew, simply state "sweetheart remember what we talked about, when you get into the bath you must sit down (as it's slippery and therefore dangerous...)" again make eye contact and touch the child gently.

No reference to not sitting or consequences.

Again you can say something like 'shall I help you sit down or can you sit all  by yourself?" Wait a moment for the child to comply. If the child continues to stand again take them out and move on, just remarking gently that you see they've chosen to have a very short bath.

No repeated warnings, no threats or admonishment just respect for the choice the child makes within the clear boundaries you have provided.

Once you state clearly that when in the bath the child must sit, the natural consequence is that the child if not sitting, gets out.

Apply this to many everyday situations

The same principle applies to many many situations, sitting on the swing, getting into bed for story-time, sitting at the table while eating, sitting during story-time at the library, washing hands before eating, wearing a sunhat to play outside.

It's really important that once you have stated that something is (or is not) to be done that you follow through.

If you don't mean it, don't say it, if you do mean it, follow through.

Following through is the key to getting a child to do what you ask.  

When you follow through with natural consequences, delivered lovingly, your overall credibility and effectiveness is strengthened as your child knows you mean what you say.