It was one of those mornings where every little things seem to bother my son he. He was playing in the other room when I told him it was time to get his socks and shoes on for the bus. He got upset because he felt like he didn’t have enough time to play this morning even though he already played outside earlier this morning. (side note: he does not like to be rushed so feeling like there is not enough time is a trigger for him)
Instead of putting on his socks and shoes, his emotions took over. He got upset and started throwing toys across the room. Even though "time" can be a trigger for him, I recognized his behavior was deliberate and not a meltdown. Because this was intentional behavior, I instructed him calmly but firmly that it was not okay to throw toys. I also told him that before school he would need to pick up the mess. He asked "what about playtime?" I said "If you pick up your toys quickly, you’ll still have a couple minutes to play." That just fueled his emotions again, because he was rushed.
It was a morning that I was able to maintain control of my emotions and use logic. I stayed calm and let him know that the bus was on its way and showed him a picture of a GPS on my phone so he could see where the bus was.
Reluctantly, he started picking up the toys. After the toys are picked up he only had enough time to get his socks and shoes on to get outside for the bus. Well that made him upset again and said "I’m not going to school today!" I said "I know you’re upset about playtime. You can play more when you get home." (an attempt at connecting to his emotions) He was then given two choices. (Choices are wonderful for kids to give them a piece of control - win/win) I said "I can drive you to school or you can take the bus which I know you love to ride?" Today he didn’t like either option and didn't make a choice. By not choosing he learned a natural consequence ... yup, you guessed it! He was too late and missed the bus. (PS - he still had to go to school)
Teaching natural consequences is a pain point for the vast majority of my clients. So what really is a natural consequence?
Natural consequences will occur without any involvement from another person. For example: If it is cold outside and you forget a coat then you feel cold. If you leave food on the table unattended, the dog may eat it. If you jump in a puddle then your clothes get wet. If the refrigerator door isn't shut, the food will spoil.
Natural consequences happen to all of us and help us to develop awareness as we move through life. There are two conflicting sides of this in parenting and neither teaches the child the lesson they need to learn about natural consequences. As parents, natural consequences sometimes don't happen because we will intervein in an attempt to make life easier or better for our child. While this is wonderful, too much "hand holding" can interfere with natural lessons the child would learn.
On the other side, we may give a consequence that is not relative to the situation. It is so easy to get into the habit of taking away screen time or time outs. Unnatural consequences do not aid in development and create tension and frustration between parents and children. Instead of the child gaining a lesson from a natural consequence that they can make sense of (or you can help them rationalize) they just shift blame over to the parent and become upset because it seems unfair. How many times have you heard that one?
Which do you relate to most?
For children to learn natural consequences, we as parents can guide our children through a logical consequence when a situation arises. This would be something that if it happened to you it would happen naturally without anyone intervening. Just like how I facilitated a logical consequence of my son missing the bus. He wasn't ready on time and the bus came and went without him. I could have, picked up the mess and helped him out to get him out to the bus in time, however then he wouldn't have understood the consequences of his actions. Both the boundary I've set around throwing toys and also the natural consequence of "when you are late for the bus, you miss it."
I encourage you to take advantage of teaching moments (when you are both in good mental place to teach and be taught) and it will be a parenting win, even if your kid misses the bus.
I hope you were able to take something from this to help you on your parenting journey. If you need guidance or support on a specific topic, I would love to hear from you.
- Marisa O'Brien