There is a big difference between logical and natural consequences. They are not the same thing at all.
Natural consequences are things that just happen. They are built into life by God. Go outside in the snow without your coat and you will get cold. Run on slippery floors and you will slip. Go into debt and can’t pay your bills and you will face calls from collectors and bankruptcy. They are built in no matter what your age or maturity level.
Logical consequences are imposed consequences that are relevant, respectful, and related (if they’re done in PD/GBD; punitive logical consequences are out there, too, but we don’t want those). For young children who lack adult logic, these are still punitive. They don’t think in logical ways, so they don’t always see the connections we are making. And because logical consequences are imposed after the fact, they are reactive and not proactive. For this reason, I encourage people to think of logical consequences as an effective tool for the older child and teen who share adult logic and will make the connections. A 3- to 5-year-old won’t necessarily get it.
When dealing with consequences, I encourage parents to look at the situation with their maturity and life experience. Figure out, the best you can, what the natural consequence might be. If your child is ready to face it, let it happen. Let your son go outside without the coat (take it along, of course, for when he learns the lesson from the natural consequence). Be there with the arnica when your daughter does slip on the wet floor you’re tired of telling her to stay off of. If your child isn’t ready to face the natural consequences, block them and trust that there will be ample time for lessons later, when your child is ready.
For example, what is the natural consequence of playing with a DVD player you asked your child to stop playing with? I would think it might be breaking the DVD player. If my child were seven or eight and had an allowance, then I would allow them to do it, break it if need be, and go without the DVD player until they bought us a new one, or buy a new one and take the money out of their future allowances. Real life lesson there. But a 3 1/2-year-old doesn’t have the maturity or the means to understand this type of a lesson. At that age, I would work to block the natural consequence. If you can’t move the DVD player to a place your child is unable to reach it, what about unplugging it unless you’re using it? Before doing that, though, you might try other things. Since you’re not usually there to give a code word, maybe you can tape a picture of a stop sign or a red hand held in the stop position. Let the sign hang over the buttons as a reminder to him not to push them. Maybe even an actual picture of you doing the stop sign with that look like you caught him in time. As for punishments, they are only things we do to children to make them feel bad so that they will learn their lesson. It’s the belief that people have to suffer to learn, to drive home the lesson. In reality, punishments are unnecessary, and often take away from the lessons that life provides. They turn the child’s focus to the punishment, not on the lesson. They also lead to confusion about the separation between the person and the behavior – if the behavior is bad and deserving of punishment, it translates that the person is bad and deserving of punishment. This often goes hand in hand, in Christian circles, with the belief that children are nothing but dirty little sinners. While we all bear the sin nature, this doesn’t mean that an action is sin. This also suggests that punishing children can take away their sins – but only God can do that.
Parenting also goes through different stages, depending on the age and developmental stage of the child. What you want to be working towards is a transfer of powers. You want to take your baby from being in a state of you preventing all natural consequences to being an adult who experiences all natural consequences.
So, I start with my babies and don’t let any harm come to them. Then, I focus my energy on teaching while preventing the natural consequences, except the acceptable ones in the areas where they are the most insistent on learning the hard way. Then I move to more correction (while still teaching) and use limited logical consequences and more natural consequences until, eventually, it’s only a few logical consequences for the very big things, and they get to field all the natural consequences for themselves. The key is that before they face a natural consequence, I have prepared them! I have taught them what to expect, what to do when it happens, and how to avoid it! A natural consequence is an ineffective teaching method if they child hasn’t been prepared with the option of avoiding it and the knowledge of how to recover from it.
The key to natural consequences is they happen unless you stop them. God is the one who set them up and we don’t have to come up with them.
I believe you have set a very healthy boundary. I believe that if a young child steps outside the boundary, what you will do is done to prevent the true natural consequence which he’s not ready to face.
The big difference between GBD and most typical punitive parenting approaches is that GBD is not adversarial. If you’re looking at a toddler throwing food on the floor and asking yourself, “What do I need to do to get her to stop?” then you’ve already succumbed to our culture’s adversarial view of parents and children. Parenting that way simply doesn’t have joy. I want you to have joy as a mother.
Of course, joy isn’t happiness, it’s peace in the storm.
The Hebrew word translated “child” only applies to individuals age 5 and older.
There is no discussion in the Bible of disciplining “babies” (those under five).
So, use this time to get to know your baby. Ask yourself what she’s trying to tell you with her actions. Does she want to play when she is throwing food? Clean her up and give her something appropriate to play with. Is she done? Clean her up and get her on to the next activity. Is she thirsty? Get her a drink. Is she out of the one thing on her plate she was enjoying? Offer her a little more. Learn to speak her language as she’s learning to speak yours.
Start the discipline (teaching), but don’t expect her to get it all at this age. She’s learning so much! To walk and talk and explore and . . . the list goes on. Think on discipline at these years as shaping her exploration and learning. Teach her HOW to do something successfully. Your child will learn to walk with or without your help. Instead, teach her where it’s safe to walk, to walk holding your hand, to walk towards you when you need her.
Take this time to earn her trust, meet her needs, teach her an emotional vocabulary, invest in your relationship.
Anytime I find myself asking, “What do I need to do in response to that?” I realize I’ve slipped into being reactive. I want to be proactive – that means learning from each situation so I’m ready to face it next time with a plan. You are learning how to be a mother and learning how your child learns. You need to know this before you really get into teaching her the big stuff – the God stuff.
At this age my concern is safety. At this age my concern is teaching courtesy (not expecting it, but teaching and modeling it).
And the more relaxed I can remain the better things go.
But, what if they break a rule? How do I handle that?
My answer to this is always, “I have very few rules and I make sure he doesn’t cross the boundaries or get anywhere near breaking the rules.” The thing about “making rules” is you have to enforce them. And, as we all know, rules were made to be broken.
One thing about boundaries is that we often don’t know we have them until they’ve been crossed. When that happens, it becomes our responsibility to make a note of them, at what point we became uncomfortable, and what we will do to prevent this next time.
For example, when Liam was two he used to want to sit in my lap while I was on the computer. Within five minutes, every time, he was trying to climb onto my head. If I let him on my lap, he went for my head. My boundary became, “You may not sit on my lap while I’m at the computer. You may stand next to me and cuddle me, you may pull a chair up and sit by me, but you may not be on my lap while I’m at the computer.” Simple, non-negotiable, and about me. Boundaries are not controlling – they are for keeping me safe/sane/focused: You may not talk to me while I’m writing a check. If you do, I will not listen; If you ask me for something while I’m on the phone, the answer is no. I will
reconsider when I am off the phone; You may not watch certain shows because I do not approve of them. You may not watch other shows because I don’t like how they affect your behavior; You may not eat certain foods because they make you sick. There is no power play with these boundaries. It’s simply a statement of the way it is. I do not like that tone of voice, I will not respond positively to it; I will not be around someone abusing my body. If you bite me while nursing I will put you down.
It’s very important to try and set our children up for success, so finding solutions is much more important than dealing with things when they’re done.
However, what I do when I do have to respond to things is try to keep my cool and assign a positive intent. I try to figure out what they were thinking or feeling, and reflect that. “You sure were curious about what would happen if you swung that stick around. Can you tell me what you learned?” or, “You were really frustrated that your brother didn’t want to play and so you hit him.” If two people are involved I sit them both down and supervise a dialogue where they tell each other what they were feeling and set boundaries
with each other.
If your child is constantly pushing boundaries, I’d also try to keep him busy and make sure he has outlets. Outside play might be key. Is there a play set or a yard to run and jump in? Make sure your child is getting his energy out in constructive ways.
I also would make sure a child is making amends when he breaks something (earning the money to replace it) or when he hurts someone (doing something to return them to their pre-injury status). I don’t force apologies, but I do insist on insurance activities that restore someone. I’d also work with him on using his words so that he can better communicate.