The power of natural consequences in getting your child to listen

By Paulene Richardson from even better parenting

It’s important you know your children will do what you ask, when you ask, for many reasons (including safety). So what then should you do when your child ignores you, or does the opposite of what you ask? Is there really an effective way to get kids to do what they’re asked?

There is! The key is to use natural consequences. Not punishment, not anger, not nagging, but natural consequences. “Isn’t that just another (nicer) way of saying punishment? What’s the difference?” do I hear you ask? Let use a bath time example to illustrate the difference between a punishment and natural consequences, and you can use the same principle in many different situations.

The bath time example

Here’s a familiar scene: It’s bath-time and you have been concerned about your child standing up and jumping about in the bath. You constantly ask them to sit down but nothing happens or they jump straight up again. You know it’s dangerous and you know that when in the bath the child must sit.

An example of using a punishment

“If you don’t sit down in the bath, we won’t go to the playground tomorrow”.  Sitting in the bath has nothing at all to do with going to the playground, and so it is not a natural consequence.

How to implement using a natural consequences approach

When getting your child ready for the bath tell them clearly that you’ve decided that when they’re in the bath they must sit. Once that direction has been given what happens if they continue to stand? Using natural consequences your child, if not sitting, gets out.

So let’s look in a little more detail as to how a natural consequence might work in this practical example.

  1. Before your child gets into the bath you explain that you have decided that when in the bath they must sit. For example “sweetheart when you get into the bath you must sit down as it’s slippery and dangerous…”. Make eye contact and touch the child gently ensuring that you are connecting and engaging with your child.
  2. Put your little one into the bath and if they are standing wait a few moments and then say “remember what I said about sitting down? Would you like me to help you sit down or can you sit down all by yourself?”
  3. Wait a moment for them to respond, and if nothing happens ask “have you decided to get out now?”.
  4. If they continue to stand, remove them from the bath. Do it gently and kindly. Here is where tone is really, really important. Do not admonish the child, merely acknowledge their decision. “OK you decided to have a very short bath tonight so let’s get you dried and dressed in your pyjamas so we can choose a story (or whatever is the routine)”. Your child is not being punished. Rather you are accepting your child’s decision to get out. Your decision is that the children may not stand in the bath.
  5. If your little one screams and wants to get back into the bath you can on night one or two, as they are learning the new routine. Pleasantly say something like: “Oh you would like to sit down in the bath, let’s try that shall we?”. This only applies on night one and two (at most). On subsequent nights do not give a ‘chance’ as this will just become the established routine. Instead just say pleasantly “oh bath time is finished tonight. You can decide tomorrow if you want to sit and play in the bath” and then move on quickly to the next part of your evening routine. Don’t go on about it, don’t explain it all over again, simply move on – all the while keeping a light pleasant tone.
  6. The next evening start anew and simply state “sweetheart remember what we talked about, when you get into the bath you must sit down (as it’s slippery and therefore dangerous…)” and again make eye contact and touch your child gently. No reference to not sitting or consequences.
  7. Again you can say something like ‘shall I help you sit down or can you sit all by yourself?” Wait a moment for your child to comply.
  8. If they continues to stand again take them out and move on, just remarking gently that you see they’ve chosen to have a very short bath. No repeated warnings, no threats or admonishment just respect for the choice the child makes within the clear boundaries you have provided.
  9. Note: If you’re worried about your child  being dirty, have a facewasher at the ready and quickly give the child a wipe down as you take them out each night. If the little one doesn’t enjoy this just explain that “your bottom and face are a bit dirty and need a wash, I’ll be as quick as I can” “Maybe tomorrow we can do this in the bath?”.

Once you state clearly that when in the bath the child must sit, the natural consequence is that if not sitting, your child has chosen to get out. Once your child is 12-14 months, you can apply this to many everyday situations, including sitting on the swing, getting into bed for story-time, sitting at the table while eating, sitting during story-time at the library, washing hands before eating, wearing a sun-hat to play outside. It’s really important that once you have stated that something is (or is not) to be done that you follow through. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If you do mean it, follow through. Following through is the key to getting a child to do what you ask. When you follow through with natural consequences, delivered lovingly, your overall credibility and effectiveness is strengthened as your child knows they can trust you to mean what you say and that is incredibly important in any relationship.

About the author

Hi, I’m Paulene Richardson and I set up even better parenting to help parents use Montessori-inspired parenting to bring out the best in their children and give them the very best start possible.  I’m an Early Childhood and Montessori specialist, with decades of experience understanding the needs young children and their families.  My aim is to help parents meet the developmental needs of their young children within the family context.
I offer a range of services including individual consultations in your own home as well as seminars for groups. I am also available as a guest speaker.

You can find more about even better parenting at:

  • Website: www.evenbetterparenting.com.au
  • Email: paulene@evenbetterparenting.com.au
  • Phone: 0403 226 733
  • And on Facebook and Instagram



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