What Are “Natural Consequences” in Behavior Management?

“Responsible behavior is a prerequisite for privacy, choice, and freedom.”

-Aaron Huey, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center Co-Founder

Natural consequences for behavior can teach teenagers what to do and what not to do. We strive to teach our kids to make good and healthy choices in life for their own long-term benefit. As parents, we need to be careful in considering applying consequences to behaviors in order to help our kids become responsible, thoughtful, and confident young adults. Fighting our “knee-jerk” reactions can be challenging; however, for the best results, we might need to think of the “bigger picture” and think about what we are ultimately teaching our kids.

Challenges of Thoughtful Consequences

Sometimes, we think that the first reaction to a maladaptive behavior is the natural consequence of that behavior. For example, if our child is playing with a ball indoors and breaks a lamp, we might yell at them and send them to their room. In this example, the behavior of breaking the lamp results in the natural consequence of being yelled at and sent away to “think about what you’ve done.” However, in the long-term, does this “knee-jerk” reaction lead to our child becoming more responsible, or does our child only learn to fear us?

One of the biggest misconceptions people have about natural consequences for behavior is that they need to be immediate. Parents may believe that for the lesson to “stick,” the time gap between behavior and consequence must be as short as possible. However, we can think through the consequences. When we allow ourselves time to calm down, think about our options, and finally plan a strategy with consequences we can stick to, we can better teach and prepare our kids for success in life.

3 Steps to Creating Consequences for Behavior

  1. Calm Down!
    • One of the essential aspects of setting consequences is to manage your emotional responses.
    • This step is challenging; however, this can make a significant difference in keeping peace in your home.
    • If your child does something that makes you want to scream or yell at them, you are not likely in a good place to make long-term decisions. “Knee-jerk” reactions occur at a certain moment, and we can interrupt them. Try some of the following:
      • “Tap out” with your parenting partner to give yourself some space.
      • Take deep breaths and count to ten. Modeling this behavior for your child can also teach them valuable skills!
      • Tell your kid, “I need time to think about this.” Letting your kid know that you are considering what to do next is okay! We do not lose our authority as parents by not having the answers right away. 
  2. Think About Your Options:
    • Take some time to:
      • Speak to other parents for advice. 
      • Research ideas online. 
      • Listen to parenting advice on podcasts.
      • Consult with your child’s therapist or counselor (if they are in treatment).
      • Discuss the issue with your parenting partner. You will both need to be on the same page for this to work. 
    • Remember that you are not alone, and support is available for you. We like to believe that, as parents, have all the answers; however, it is okay to admit that we do not. 
  3. Plan a Strategy:
    • Create and implement a relevant, realistic, and natural course of action regarding the behavior.
    • For example, if your child breaks a lamp, you can attach a monetary value to additional chores to pay for a new lamp. 
    • The consequence needs to cause some level of discomfort to our child. Otherwise, the consequence will not matter.
    • We might struggle with caving in when we see our child feel disappointed or upset; however, this negative emotional response is crucial to learning what not to do. 

For more tips and examples, listen to “Sticking to Consequences and Making Them Stick” on the “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast. 

Additional Tips for Mindful Decision-Making

We want to be sure that we set up consequences that require our kids to put in the work. We need to place the responsibility for the behavior on our kid’s shoulders. If you find yourself doing more work than your child in implementing the consequences of their behavior, step back, and recalibrate. 

We need to deliver consequences to our kids out of love. Our kids are learning about the world and how to be responsible. With our guidance and forward-thinking behavior models, we can implement strategies to teach them lessons from a place of love. We are not necessarily dealing with the behavior of a teenager or adolescent. Instead, we are training the future adult that they will become.

Delivering realistic and relevant consequences to bad behaviors can be challenging. We might need to fight our natural anger response and combat our own “knee-jerk” reactions. When we take time to calm down, we can then focus on strategies to teach our kids how to be responsible young adults. For consequences to stick, they do not need to be immediate; they simply need to be meaningful. To create significant results, we can resource our options, research online, and talk with other parents or counselors. We need to be on the same page as our parenting partner; if one parent caves in, the consequences will not have as much meaning. If you have a teenager or adolescent struggling with addiction, promiscuity, cutting, or other problematic behaviors, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment of Estes Park, Colorado, is here for you. Call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.

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