Natural consequences are the logical outcomes or results of a person’s actions and do not require human intervention to occur.
A natural consequence example is when you fail to follow safety rules and subsequently get injured as a result. We might colloquially call this “getting your comeuppance” or “just deserts”.
When raising children, we often don’t need to administer a disciplinary action in these instances. A consequence will occur naturally and this will lead to a teachable moment.
Natural Consequences Definition
Dreikurs and Stolz (1968) included the concepts of natural and logical consequences in their model of social discipline.
Heavily influenced by Alfred Adler’s theory of individual psychology, the model identifies two types of consequences:
- Natural consequences are a direct result following behavior that would occur naturally in the environment. For example, leaning back in one’s chair will lead to it falling over and hurting or embarrassing the child. The consequences are not imposed by an authority figure, they occur naturally.
- Logical consequences require that a child fix what they have done wrong. So, if a child breaks something, then they must fix it. The consequence of the misdeed is directly connected to the act.
These consequences are a result of rules set by authority figures such as the teacher or parents.
Natural Consequences Examples
- If you are rude to people, you won’t make friends.
- If you don’t wear a jacket outside when it’s cold, you’ll feel cold.
- If you don’t clean your teeth, you get bad breath.
- If you don’t study for a test, you may get a low grade.
- If you don’t eat, you will feel hungry and maybe even get irritable.
- If you don’t exercise, you may become unfit and overweight.
- If you spend all your money, you won’t be able to pay your rent.
- If you don’t get enough sleep, you may have difficulty concentrating.
- If you don’t follow safety rules, you may get injured.
- If you don’t save for retirement, you may end up working well into your 70s.
- If you don’t buy travel insurance, you will end up in financial difficulty when you get injured abroad.
- If you are lazy, you won’t get far in your career.
- If you don’t take care of your belongings, they may become damaged or lost.
- If you don’t clean up after yourself, your bedroom will get dirty.
- If you don’t cook your meat properly, you may get food poisoning.
- If you don’t follow through on commitments, you may lose trust or respect from others.
- If you don’t plan ahead, you may run out of time or resources to accomplish a task or goal.
- If you don’t listen to the teacher’s instructions, you may fail in your task.
See Also: 101 Classroom Consequences Ideas
Natural Consequences in Aesop’s Fables
Aesop’s fables are full of stories about natural consequences. They teach children through stories about how to develop the right mindset and thinking strategies for success.
For example, in the famous fable The Tortoise and the Hare, natural consequences include:
These natural consequences serve as a reminder to the reader that hard work, perseverance, and focus can often lead to success, even if it is not immediate or obvious at first. Additionally, the consequences highlight the importance of avoiding overconfidence and remaining humble in the face of challenges.
There are a lot of videos of other Aesop’s fables out there to choose from, each with stories about natural consequences. Here are some in video format:
The Benefits Of Natural Consequences
Parents often want to protect their children from negative aspects of life. This can mean trying to prevent them from making mistakes, helping them avoid danger, or intervening when they are about to do something wrong.
On the one hand, this is part of a parent’s job.
On the other hand, however, it means stopping them from learning about life. Sometimes the best teacher is life itself.
Therefore, it is best that each child learn some lessons on their own. Being an overprotective parent can result in more severe consequences later in life.
Below are the potential benefits of a natural consequences approach to discipline:
- Instills Intrinsic Motivation: When children learn that mom and dad won’t always step-in to save the day, it helps children become intrinsically motivated to follow the rules on their own.
- Develops Sense of Autonomy: Letting children experience the negativity, or rewards, of natural consequences will help them become more independent.
- Teaches about Cause and Effect: Natural consequences lead to a teachable moment. Children learn that action X leads to result Y. They begin to understand how behavior and consequences are connected, which is a learning experience in and of itself.
When Natural Consequences Are a Bad Idea
Just like everything else in life, a good idea is not always a good idea. There are circumstances in which letting a young child or teenager experience natural consequences may do irreparable harm. In those instances, it is best that the parent try to prevent their offspring from making those mistakes.
- Not wearing a helmet: Children should always wear a helmet when riding a bike, skateboarding, or roller-blading. The natural consequences in these situations are not worth it.
- A healthy diet: Teaching children to eat healthily is easier to accomplish than when they are older. The long-term health consequences of a diet full of sugar and cholesterol is not the right opportunity to apply natural consequences.
- Running with scissors: There are plenty of other ways to teach children to be safe that do not involve severe physical harm.
- No drinking while driving: Teenagers can be hard to control. Their judgment is impaired by hormones, impulsive behavior, and trying to gain social approval. However, trying to prevent drinking and driving can save their life and the lives of others as well.
Lesson Plan: The Natural Consequences Worksheet
Sometimes children respond better to reading something other than having it told to them in a conversation. Making a game out of a lesson can be even more effective. Here is one example of how to teach a child about natural consequences in a fun way.
First, take a look at this worksheet. It contains two columns. In one column an action is described and in the other a possible consequence is identified.
- Print two copies of the worksheet
- Use white-out to paint over the consequences in the first worksheet
- Cut out each of the rectangles in the second worksheet that contain the consequences
- Spread those rectangles around so the order is mixed-up
- Now, ask your child to read an action in the first column of the first worksheet and then choose the correct consequence rectangle you have spread out
- Have them place that rectangle in the right spot in the first worksheet
You can add a short discussion after each consequence has been placed in its correct spot.
Natural consequences refers to when children/students are allowed to experience the negative or positive results of their actions without any intervention from others.
This means that even though the teacher or parent may want to step-in and prevent an accident, they refrain. It is sometimes best for children to experience the results of their behavior directly.
Learning through natural consequences can help a child develop a sense of autonomy and responsibility for their actions. They may also become more intrinsically motivated to follow rules and more deeply understand the connection between action and consequences.
With that said, caregivers may not want to wait for natural consequences to occur for their children to learn the value of following the rules. In this case, they may try to teach certain life-lessons through storytelling and formal instruction.
Last but not least, some consequences can be so severe that they are best avoided all together. Therefore, children should be taught to always wear a helmet when engaged in certain activities, eat healthily, don’t run with scissors and only drive when completely sober.
Dreikurs, R. (1987). Children: The challenge. New York: Dutton.
Dreikurs, R. C., & Grey, L. (1968). Logical consequences: A new approach to discipline. Meredith Press.
Dreikurs, R., & Stolz, V. (1991). Children: The challenge: The classic work on improving parent-child relations–intelligent, humane, and eminently practical. Penguin.
Malmgren, K. W., Trezek, B. J., & Paul, P. V. (2005). Models of classroom management as applied to the secondary classroom. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 79(1), 36-39.
Pianta, R. C. (1999). Enhancing relationships between children and teachers. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10314-000
Robichaud, J. M., Lessard, J., Labelle, L., & Mageau, G. A. (2020). The role of logical consequences and autonomy support in children’s anticipated reactions of anger and empathy. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29, 1511-1524.
Soheili, F., Alizadeh, H., Murphy, J. M., Bajestani, H. S., & Ferguson, E. D. (2015). Teachers as leaders: The impact of Adler-Dreikurs classroom management techniques on students’ perceptions of the classroom environment and on academic achievement. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 71(4), 440-461.