As parents and adults, we are tasked with preparing children for adulthood and the real world. When asked what traits parents, future employers and other adults would like children to have now and as adults, one of the most common responses is “to be responsible and successful.” These are broad terms, which can mean many different things, including:
- Being dependable
- Meeting commitments and obligations
- Keeping your word and promises
- Doing something to the best of your ability
- Being a contributing member of one’s family, community and society
- Accepting credit when you do things right
- Acknowledging and learning from mistakes
- Being accountable for choices and behavior
- Being gainfully employed
- Earning the respect of others
However, not wanting our children to fail can lead parents to do too much for their children. When this happens, children don’t learn to take responsibility for themselves, and as adults, we are condoning bad behavior and excusing poor choices. The point is that people, young and old, have choices and every choice or decision has a consequence. Shielding children from the consequences of their actions does not serve them or society well.
Consequences can be either positive or negative. Like the law of physics, every action causes a reaction. Letting children experience the natural consequences of their choices and actions teaches responsibility. Responsibility, in turn, produces maturity, pride, knowledge, self-confidence and personal and professional fulfillment.
What are Natural Consequences?
Natural consequences can best be described as the logical outcome of a decision your child makes. A natural consequence happens because of something a child does, and occurs when parents do not intervene in a situation; rather, they allow the situation to teach the child. Natural consequences are the inevitable result of a child’s own actions.
These consequences sometimes come from outside forces such as teachers, caregivers, grandparents, and, later in life, employers. For example, completing a school assignment in the allotted time will result in going on a fieldtrip; not completing the assignment brings the opposite result. Allowing a child to experience the natural consequences helps him or her learn about what happens when he or she makes various choices.
As difficult as it may be for parents, allowing children to make poor choices is necessary for them to learn how to make better choices. In effect, experience becomes the teacher and the consequences become the stepping stones for future choices.
Remember, consequences or the outcomes of a decision can be positive. For instance, joining a sports team offers numerous positive “consequences” such as improved physical health and academic achievement, higher self-esteem and fewer behavioral problems. Engaging in social activities and learning new skills, such as playing an instrument, fosters competence, confidence, connections, character and caring, all of which are critical components of positive youth development.
These activities also require both time and financial commitments, which are also consequences. Your child must understand these commitments and fulfill the requirements. In other words, if music lessons are for one year or baseball is for three months, as parents, we must hold our children to their word to complete the agreed-upon timeframe, even if it means they may miss out on something else.
Allowing natural consequences does not preclude being supportive. Attending your child’s games and performances creates an environment that allows your child to achieve dreams. And teaching our children that you don’t have to be “first” or the “best” to be successful, you just have to do your best and complete the task or commitment at hand.
Perhaps EmpoweringParents.com says it best: “While it’s your responsibility to coach your child and point out the consequences of his or her choices, your child learns best when given the opportunity to identify his choices, consider each choice, choose and then experience the outcome. Even the best-behaved kids will make poor choices now and again. The hard truth is that decision-making is a skill your child needs to learn so he or she can function as an adult. Natural consequences are some of the best teachers a parent can have in coaching their children about life in the real world. Learning to let your child experience these lessons is part of your job as a parent.” FBN
By Richard L. Hays, M.D.
Richard L. Hays, M.D., is an anesthesiologist with Forest Country Anesthesia. In addition to being board-certified in anesthesia, he is also a board-certified family practice physician. Dr. Hays is one of four anesthesiologists in the practice who specialize in pediatric sedation. He also cares for obstetric patients and surgical patients who need any level of anesthesia or sedation – from local anesthetic to regional anesthesia such as a spinal or epidural to full or general sedation. Dr. Hays has been married for 26 years and is the father of triplets, who are now 23 years old. He and his family made Flagstaff their home in 2003. In addition to his role as a physician, he is passionate about creating environments in the home and community that support, enhance and encourage good mental and emotional health, as well as physical health, in people of all ages, from all walks of life.
To learn more about Dr. Hays and Forest Country Anesthesia, visit ForestCountryAnesthesia.com or call 928-773-2505.
Paul Lundstrom says
Nice article Richard!