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How to Implement Natural Consequences

How to Implement Natural Consequences

Shaking. He just kept on shaking it.

My son – he’s 6. We were on the way home from church, so I had all three munchkins in the van. We had already made a quick grocery pit stop. Everyone was hungry, and the ants were in the pants.

And he kept shaking his water bottle. He invents these little games for himself to pass the time. In this one, the water bottle could have been a missile or a medicine or machine gun. I have no idea – the boy stuff sometimes escapes me.

All I know is, he was shaking this water bottle, and the whole time I’m thinking, “It’s gonna spill. It’s gonna rocket out of there, leaving a big mess in the third row.”

I said, “Samuel, please stop shaking your water bottle so it doesn’t spill.”

Now, in my house, if you disobey a direct command, you usually get a direct consequence. Meaning: hey, I told you to do something, and you need to listen.

I find that if I give chance after chance, then I end up with a fuming mama and a frustrated kid, so I try to discipline right away.

He kept shaking it. And I did something I don’t usually do.

I waited. Just a moment. I’m usually quick. “You didn’t obey, so you will get <insert your own consequence here>.”

But Samuel isn’t 3 anymore. The direct consequences work best from about 18 months to about 5ish depending on the kid. In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (affiliate link), you see that Sam is now at the stage where we’re moving more into coaching/mentoring.

He gets the disobedience. He knows where his heart stands before us and the Lord. He can apologize and forgive on a dime (which I sometimes question but am also grateful for). So we’re transitioning to a lot more dialogue.

Not my favorite. I’d rather everyone just follow the rules. 😉

He still has one foot in each camp, though. He pushes the disobedience, and we reign back in with direct consequences. We’ve implemented a reward system that’s working great as positive reinforcement. (Whew!)

So I waited because I was thinking. What should I do? Does he get a time out? Do I take away a toy? Video game time? I was in a patient phase, so I was just calmly trying to figure it out.

And that’s when it happened. “Umm… I just spilled a lot of water back here.”

Now trust me, there’s a part of me that sometimes immediately progresses to the I Told You So part of this lesson. “Now you can see why I told you not to shake it!”… But I didn’t say that.

The Lord was granting me some insight here – I didn’t have the insight, mind you. But I could tell something was changing in our relationship, thus the waiting.

I chose to say, “Then you know the first thing you need to do when you get home, right?”

“What?” Oh, the smart ones always know how to play dumb.

“Clean up the water.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

That was it. Nobody was upset. He cleaned up the mess right away when we got home.

Y’all. I didn’t do anything else. I didn’t even say I Told You So.

I remembered reading about natural consequences in a fantastic book called Boundaries with Kids (affiliate link – so worth the $2.99!). And of course I’ve used them. I always require my kids to clean up spills of water or legos or baby doll clothes. But I usually add to those clean ups the talk. The I Told You So and You Should Have Obeyed.

Sometimes that’s necessary, but sometimes it’s not! Oooo it’s hard for me to even say that. Yes, kids will and must learn to make their own mistakes and clean up their own messes with a loving coach by their side telling them Yes, it happened, but I know you can make it right. (not I Told You So.)

How to Implement Natural Consequences

Recognize when your child is ready

Look for signs that your child is ready to handle the natural order of things. Maybe they start taking responsibility for their own things and show pride for doing so, even if only occasionally.

Another sign is when direct consequences aren’t quite as effective anymore. Rewards may not be as motivating. The age is commonly around 5 or 6 when children have to start taking more responsibility with the start of school.

Teach the principle of sowing and reaping

Principle of Sowing and Reaping

For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:7b-8, NET)

Don’t use natural consequences alone

From Boundaries with Kids, “Life works on reality consequences.”

Reality consequences are woven into the fabric of the world that God created. However, God doesn’t strictly use natural consequence to teach us. He coaches us through His word and community, He models grace and mercy, and He gives us direct consequences as well.

Allowing natural consequences to be a part of your child’s life will help them grow into an independent learner, but it shouldn’t be the only way you plan to teach them.

OK, Steph, but really, HOW?

I think the easiest place to start using natural consequences is when you have an expectation to leave the house for something at a certain time. Ideally, it’s somewhere they enjoy, and they go often enough to practice. For my example below, I’m going to use Kindergarten.

Learn to Pause

I’m obviously working on this one. It’s tricky when you have kids in multiple stages because direct consequences are most effective when delivered quickly, but natural consequences take time to work out. So, I have to switch one off to do the other.

For example, I told my child that we leave the house for school at 7:35am. He wants to play with his toys, but he has responsibilities in the morning: getting out of bed to turn his alarm off, getting ready for school, eating breakfast, packing up his bags, brushing his teeth, etc.

What if he’s not getting ready? Do I nag him? Nope. Do I jump right in and put his shoes on for him? Nope. I wait.

We have a cheap digital clock in his room that he knows how to watch. If he gets ready efficiently, he could use about 10 minutes to play. Most mornings he takes his time getting ready and doesn’t have time to play, but he’s not upset about it because he knows he made that choice.

natural consequences

Teach the connection between his choice and the consequence as a matter of fact

Every once in awhile, he laments, “I never get time to play before school!” In this way, he’s casting out frustration.

The first time this happens, I gently and lovingly remind him of the process that is set up. “We leave at 7:35am. Once your responsibilities are done, you can use whatever time left to play.”

Don’t be offended by his frustration

My tendency is to take this personally and want to say, “If you get ready faster, you will have time.” Or bring out the I Told You So.

Or, my need to be on time makes me angry, and then I want to yell or hurriedly help him out the door while complaining. Instead, I need to stay calm so that he doesn’t think I’m to blame.

Let him feel the pain – Don’t rescue him!

I’m not to blame (usually) when he’s late. There have been times where we’ve gone out the door with his stomach only half full.

He’s walked into school late a couple of times (which he detests at this age). If the school hands out tardies, he might have to just get one! (gasp!)

Use a different method for the “struggle” areas

Some things that he struggles to do in the morning are part of his reward system.

For example, he’s learning to tie his shoes and doesn’t enjoy it. He gets a check in the system every morning he chooses to tie them. If he doesn’t tie them, I tie them for him, but he doesn’t get the check. So as we’re leaving, we check the shoes. I really don’t worry about whether he does it or not because the reward system sort of handles this area.

Help him plan for next time

Later, when you’re not trying to get out of the door, brainstorm together how you might avoid being late.

“Hey bud, remember how we had some trouble this morning? What do you think we can do differently?”

Release control and let God guide your child

natural consequences

This is maybe the hardest thing to do, but I’m constantly learning how to let God guide my child, and show my child how they can respond to God. Sometimes, instead of a consequence, I ask them if they would talk to God and ask Him for help.

Boy do I need that lesson for myself!

If you take advantage of natural consequences, what would you add to this “how to”?

Why am I Angry at My Husband?

Why am I Angry at my Husband

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kelvynskee/ (changes mine)

I have good intentions. Really, I do – and I bet you do too!

While my husband is at work, I think of ways to bless him. I might send him a cute text or a snap. A dinner he will love is on the plan. I’m thinking of what stresses he might be dealing with today.

My thoughts wander to when he will be coming home and how I will look him right in the eyes and give him a great big kiss.

“How was your day at work?” I will ask, and he will expound while I actually pause and listen.

Then we will enjoy the kids’ laughter while we get the food on the table and sit down for our favorite parts of the day.

Except it’s not the evening yet. It’s 3:30pm, which is the new witching hour now that we have one kiddo in school full time, a threenager, and a 5-month old.

The eldest child is an angel at school, so he puts all that aside when he gets home and lets all the chaos loose. The threenager is now having attention split 3 ways, and that baby must be held again once it’s time to chop the onions.

The frustration of not having things my way – not being in control – is starting to fizz a little inside, much like a cold Diet Coke. One child disrespects while the other has a physical crisis (read: bathroom issue or pain issue). I’m trying to be consistent in my discipline to nip the disrespect in the bud, but everything is blowing up in my face.

My control freak crashes the party and throws a mentos in and BOOM.

I’m angry.

Just flat out angry at the lack of control.

The butterflies and flowers in my thought bubble pop, and in comes a storm cloud aimed right at… my husband.

I’m not sure when he entered into this mess, but he sure is the target now.

“How can he do this to me?”

“He has no idea what I’m dealing with right now!”

“He’s only home for the fun stuff.”

“Why does he choose today to be late?”

These rapid-fire thoughts are only a sample – I have quite a few more for him.

You see, the reason I’m angry at my husband is:

I’m choosing to be.

Much like you’re the ugliest to your mama (bless her soul!), you decide he’s to blame.

I want him to rescue me because of my need for security, and he’s not there, so I decide he’s incapable. I’m on my own. Again.

Thus, it’s his fault.

Do you see how the lies play into this?

I’m choosing to believe he’s at fault. I’m choosing to be angry at him. I can’t be angry at the kids – that’s what a bad mom would do, and I’m not a bad mom. I can’t be angry at myself – this is obviously not my fault.

I make a choice.

Lately, I’ve been working on making a choice for truth. When that unfound (or maybe misplaced timing?) anger rises up against my husband, I’m combatting the lies with truth.

“My husband has nothing to do with what’s going on right now.”

“My husband is for me and would absolutely help me if he were here.”

“My husband is with me in that he’s on my side, and we’ve made plans for how to handle difficult situations with the kids.”

“He’s at work, which is exactly what he’s supposed to be doing right now.”

“I’m choosing to be angry at him.” <– This one right here is the one that usually throws the water on the fire. Once I realize I have made the choice to be angry at him, I can usually be free of that malice. I still have to deal with the present situation, but my daggers are now back in their sheaths, ready to fight the real battles we face.

Do you agree with me? Have you found freedom from these lies? If so, how?

Why Doesn’t My Husband Respond to Me?

Have you ever looked at your husband and thought, what does he want from me?

Maybe you’re the people-pleaser-doer wife and you’ve been slaving all day: cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, etc.

But he doesn’t seem to notice.

Or perhaps you’re the awesome-helper-spiritually-gifted wife, and you have been really thriving in God’s presence.

But he’s not right now.

Maybe you’re struggling yourself right now. With depression, job loss, infertility, anxiety.

But he’s not there for you.

Here’s the thing: You probably aren’t doing anything wrong.

Now, of course, we all contribute to messes in our marriage, and sometimes our husbands can check out when we’re having problems.

But you need to know that your husband’s dissatisfaction is not always your fault. It’s not always about your marriage.

Often, he’s not responding to you because he is dealing with something else. For example, my pastor hubby can get very discouraged at work because he’s doesn’t feel like he’s able to get people excited about spiritual things. Or he’s bearing others’ burdens, and the sheer weight of it is occupying his heart and thoughts. Or he’s prepping a sermon, and it is just consuming him for one reason or another.

So how do you know what’s going on, and how you can help? Try this:

1. Find a good time to bring it up.

While the kids are crawling on him, when he’s half asleep, or after you’ve fought about something else is not the right time. Consider a time when you’re both not exhausted (if that’s possible), you’re alone, and you’re not on bad terms.

2. Ask what’s up.

First, tell him you’ve noticed that he seems stressed/tired/thoughtful/whatever, and ask him if there’s something that is bothering him. You don’t have to ask if you are doing something wrong. That puts him in the mode to protect your feelings, and then he feels like he can’t share with you what’s really going on – which probably isn’t about you.

3. Trust his answer.

Once your hubby answers your question in number 2, above, trust that what he tells you is honest and genuine. Men are generally not like women – they’re not going to beat around the bush and make you guess a thousand times until they crack and cry and finally let it all out. Yeah. They don’t really do that. (Not that I do all that – ahem – I’m just sayin’…)

In other words, don’t keep nagging him with questions like, “Are you sure I haven’t done something to upset you?” Again, this puts him in the mode where he needs to coddle you, and the whole point of the conversation was for you to find out what was going on with him. Right?

4. Ask how you can help.

Know that he may not want to talk about the issue. Even though something is troubling him, he may not necessarily want to flesh out every possible conclusion or bad mouth the people involved or discuss the nuances that led him there.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t help him.

Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, but again, trust him if he says “Nothing.” The list below is a great place to start.

  1. You can pray for him.
  2. You can offer to make something easier on him at home or to let him have a night with the guys.
  3. You can just understand that he’s dealing with it in his own way and not nag him about it.

I know – that last one is hard to hear. You feel like you’re being insensitive if you don’t ask him 20 200 questions about it. But once your offer your help, that’s all you can do. The rest is up to him.

And it’s OK to not try to take control and mother him in this. If he’s struggling through it and genuinely doesn’t want a certain “help” from you, then give him that room and that freedom.

Make Room for Your White Knight


My sweet, helpful husband. All he asks is, “Do you want me to go to the store for you?”

He has no idea what he’s in for.

Knowing what my days look like, I say, “Sure!” It would be quite a relief to have the groceries taken care of.

I start to hand him the list, but then I kind of tug it back – and hold on for dear life – because… well, you see, because there are things on there that I need to explain. Like Samuel’s food. Please get organic, and oh, don’t get this kind of yogurt because it’s too runny. For the chips, get what you want, but nothing with MSG. Yes, you have to read the labels. Also, I forgot to put on there the 25 things that were in my head, so let me add those, too. Hey, while you’re there can you get some stamps and some dog food. Oh wait… we don’t have a dog. Scratch that last one.

Come on, lady! He’s just trying to help! Why are you so picky!? (Can I claim it’s because I care? 😉 Or is it my control thing?)

Would it be easier to just go myself? YES!! And sometimes when he offers to do this for me (can you believe he still offers!?), I do think it would be easier on all of us if I “do it myself”. But sometimes I have to just hand over the list, say Thank You with relief, and let him rescue me.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, ladies. If you think your husband doesn’t do anything, it’s likely you’re not letting him. And you ain’t his momma, so since when did you think you could start dictating what he does and doesn’t do? I know – when it made your life less convenient.

Trust me, when Brad comes home with alfalfa sprouts instead of bean sprouts, I think How am I supposed to make Pad Thai with these? And then I have to laugh because really – how big of a deal is that? It’s not. Even when it is.

My challenge is for you to step out of the way. When he offers to do something, instead of thinking No way! He’ll screw it up and then I’ll just have to redo it!

  1. Say “Yes, that would be awesome!”
  2. When he comes home with those alfalfa sprouts, say “Thanks, babe! You made my life easier this week.” Because he did. He got all other 99 specific things spot-on.

You get to be the princess. He gets to be the hero. And then? He’ll want to do it more. And better. And bigger.

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