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When Teaching Children Should You Let Nature Take Its Course Or Intervene?

For any parent it is always difficult to know when to let children learn for themselves from the consequences of their own actions and when to intervene to teach them a lesson. This is often referred to as natural consequences or logical consequences and, although the principle is simple, its execution is not always easy.

An example of a natural consequence may be seen in the kitchen where if a child touches the hotplate while you are cooking he will burn his hand. Here the child learns a natural lesson without any need for you to intervene. This is however perhaps something of an extreme example.

Suppose your child wants to buy a model boat and that you agree to help by paying him to wash the car each week, instead of taking it as you normally would to the carwash, so that he is able to save enough money to buy the model. With money in his pocket however he cannot resist the temptation to spend it and by the time he should have saved enough for the model boat he has already spent most of his money on junk. Of course, at this point, he probably still expects to receive the model boat and is surprised when he does not.

In both of these examples the child has learn a valuable lesson from the natural consequences of his actions and you have played no active role in teaching him these lessons. This is almost certainly the best way to teach a child a lesson and the child benefits whatever the outcome. For example, if the child had not spent the money earned from washing the car and had bought the model he would have learned the value of working and saving for something and would also have learned the value of the model itself, as he had to work and save to buy it.

But let us return to the child putting his hand on the hotplate. This is of course one way for the child to learn a lesson but most parent are not going to stand by and watch their child learn a lesson in this manner. In many instances the consequences of a child’s action are either serious or long-lasting and you need to intervene and have to find some other way to teach the child the lesson he needs to learn.

The secret here is to make sure that the child sees your intervention as part of the logical consequence had the child been allowed to learn the lesson without you intervening.

For example, suppose that your teenage daughter rents a movie from the local video shop but forgets to return it on time so that she incurs a late fee. Also, assuming that she does not have the money to pay the late fee, you pay the fee for here.

Now you could teach her a lesson by forbidding her to rent any further movies for the next month but this is not a logical consequence of her action of not returning the movie on time, which was for her to incur a late fee. It would be much better therefore to teach her a lesson by deducting the late fee from her allowance. Because this is directly related to the late return of the movie she is far more likely to remember to return the next movie she rents on time.

Some lessons are of course much easier to teach than others. If your sixteen year old daughter has unprotected sex with her seventeen year old boyfriend the natural consequences of an unwanted pregnancy could have life-long consequences. But just how should do you intervene to stop this happening?

Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this question and how you tackle the problem will depend to a large extent upon your own family circumstances and the relationship which you have built up with your daughter. What is certain is that you cannot simply stand by and let nature take its course if you feel that there is a danger of your daughter getting herself into trouble.

For every situation that faces us as parents we have to decide whether our children should learn for themselves through their own experience, or whether we should intervene to assist in the learning process. Additionally, having made the decision that intervention is necessary we need to intervene in a manner that follows the natural consequences of the child’s action. Unfortunately, there is no stock answer to the problem here and you need to be guided by your own experience.

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