4 Ways to Make Natural Consequences Work

Posted March 4, 2016 by

4 Ways to Make Natural Consequences Work

At Empowering Parents, we’re often asked about appropriate consequences. But in many cases, the most effective consequences require you to do nothing at all.

Most of us learn nicely from our mistakes or missteps. If we drive too fast, we might get a ticket – an expensive lesson. Our children are no different. They learn well from their mistakes.

For instance, if your child doesn’t do his homework, he’ll get detention and/or a bad grade for missing an assignment. That’s the consequence. If your toddler refuses to wear mittens outside, she might get uncomfortably cold hands. Rather than attempting to change your child’s course, you can choose to let them experience the natural consequences of their choices.

As with many things in parenting, this can be emotionally challenging. After all, you don’t want your son to get a bad grade! Or you may feel like you’re not doing your job if you let the school’s consequence be enough. You want your daughter to have warm hands, and you may feel like a bad parent if she’s not dressed the way she “should be.”

Here are four ways to make natural consequences work for you:

  1. Stay on the lookout for natural consequences. They are all around us. If you are accustomed to giving consequences for certain behaviors, you might not recognize the potential effectiveness of a natural consequence.
  2. Don’t save your child from a natural consequence. If you can stand it! Understandably, many parents have a hard time watching their child experience the physical or psychological discomfort that can be such a powerful learning experience. But your child learns best if she experiences the entire scenario: her choice and the consequence that follows.You can certainly give your child a warning, but if she decides to ignore your advice, allow the consequence to happen without intervening. Of course parents need to intervene if you think there’s serious risk or danger involved.
  3. Recognize when a natural consequence is enough. If your child rides his bike too fast and he falls, that may be sufficient. Shaken up and scraped, he probably learned his lesson and will change his behavior next time. An additional consequence isn’t necessary.
  4. Watch for changing behavior…or not. Observe what happens the next time your child repeats the behavior. Did they learn from their previous experience? If you see change, wonderful. If not, evaluate whether you need to intervene and give another consequence.

Natural consequences are very powerful learning opportunities; they can foster self-reliance and growth. Knowing when and how to let them work for you and your child involves some letting go, allowing your child to experience the consequence when appropriate, and looking for signs of change.

If you would like more guidance on using natural consequences, this article is a great place to start: 5 Areas to Let Your Child Face Natural Consequences.

Take care this week,


Empowering Parents Coach


Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

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  1. Stepmom Report

    I wish my stepdaughter’s teachers,principal and school counselor would be on-board with natural consequences. She has so many behavior issues, that it’s impossible for us to give consequences at home for everything, and I had hoped that missed homework assignments or the daily incidents at school could be handled at school.

    But my husband and I are the ones getting called into the school office for meetings on a weekly basis about her behavior and about her failing classes, not her.  IMO, they don’t want to be the bad guys and they want someone to simply fix her behavior so they don’t have to deal with her.  She doesn’t care if she is suspended either which is the only threat she’s facing at school and she’s learned she can not turn in homework, not pay attention, not even bother to fill-in tests or quizzes and be in her own world and there’s no consequences at school other than she fails – which she doesn’t care about.

  2. Jamie Funk Mooney Report

    It might not work with special needs children, but I can tell you it has worked with my ADHD/ODD 9 yr old. I started implementing this after listening to the ODD discs. It is his responsibility and his choice to make. I have added some consequences for things involving schoolwork, but it’s more along the lines of…Didn’t do your homework last night, so tonight you have two days of homework to finish before you can play video games. I don’t argue, just walk away. There is a lot less arguing in my household. Not that he doesn’t try, I just don’t buy into it.  If his mistakes cause me to have to do more, like pick him up from detention, then I don’t rush to get him to his baseball practice or anything else. He has to pay a price for that too. It sounded simple when I listened to the talks, thought it wouldn’t work, I was wrong. We still have a long road to go, but I feel better about myself and him too.

    • ChristineD Report

      Jamie Funk Mooney 
      Think I need to get these disks – do you think they will work with this situation?  Have a 14 year old step son completely out of control.  Will not accept any consequences for any bad behavior and actually thinks he did nothing wrong.  Just gets violent and physical. Took the phone and tablet away to raise his F grades.  But because of his violence, his counselor says just let him go outside or to a friends house to vent.  That’s all fine and dandy until he uses his friends phone or tablet to contact his estranged mother (who is breaking her stay away order) and their contact has resulted in him being coerced into “doing things” that cause havoc in our home to the point of police involvement.  Its a huge mess.

      • Jamie Funk Mooney Report

        @ChristineD Jamie Funk Mooney 
        It’s the “ODD LIfeline”, I found them very helpful and much of what they talk about on these are exactly the type of situation you just described. I have tried everything, but this is the first time I think something is working. They talk about how to handle the police, courts, schools, etc. The money for this set of disc is more then worth it.

  3. Anna banana bobanna Report

    If only natural consequences didn’t cause the parent that much more work, expense and aggravation. A kid riding his bike too fast could end up with a broken arm. A flunked grade means mom gets to do all that much more transporting back and forth to school, and helping with homework. And then there are those of us with special needs children, who do not learn very fast (if at all) from “natural” consequences. That’s a whole other article I’m sure.

  4. Carol Report

    I agree that natural consequences, life experiences, are the best teachers but a detention or bad grade for not doing an assignment is not a natural consequence.
    All the time, outdated school policies intercept a child’s learning experience by impeding with a punishment. In so doing, the child then sees the consequence as a punishment and goes about trying not to get caught rather than learning to get homework done to actually know the information for the purpose of learning information.
    In the same way, having a tardiness habit is not corrected by a punishment. If not intercepted with a detention , for example, the child will soon see that the natural consequence is missing out on instruction.
    If we are going to get real about natural consequences, we have to stop the punishment philosophy that has impacted our society in such a negative way and impeded neurons from connecting an action ….or inaction, with a result.



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