Natural Consequences Encourage Behavior Change

Just as road signs and guard rails help us navigate the road safely, limits and boundaries help us navigate life. When your child crosses a boundary, you have a choice whether to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions, or shield them from the full impact. Allowing a child to experience consequences is a valuable tool in guiding them toward behavior change.

Rules & consequences

Limits and boundaries help establish what is or isn’t acceptable in all types of settings, not just at home or with regard to substance use. Consider rules around:

In addition to being clear and consistent on rules, the consequences of breaking those rules need to be clearly communicated as well. There are two kinds of consequences: those you impose and natural consequences that occur as a result of your child’s actions with no interference on your part.

How to allow natural consequences

The desire to protect your child from emotional pain or damage — even when resulting from their own actions — is pretty instinctual. But allowing your child to “feel the pain” can be a powerful influence on their future actions. Jumping in to fix the situation prevents an opportunity for them to learn from the experience, and creates an expectation that you’ll save them again the next time.

Consider the following scenarios:

What if the natural consequence is too severe?

When it comes to substance use, there are circumstances where allowing for natural consequences to occur can be unsafe or beyond your ability to tolerate.

For example, knowing that your child has been drinking and allowing the natural consequences of what could happen if they drive is unsafe and inadvisable.

The natural consequences of substance use can include legal troubles, including a criminal record and its impact on future employment. This may be more than you’re willing to allow. It’s each parent’s choice to determine their own threshold for natural consequences.

When natural consequences aren’t practical or meaningful, you can consider imposing your own. Consequences are most effective if they are reasonable, directly tied to your child’s actions and enforced consistently.

Consequences as the result of negative actions together with positive reinforcement is a powerful combination for guiding your child toward healthier behavior.