Natural Consequences Made Punitive vs Natural Consequences and Repair

“Isaac, can you come down for breakfast?”

He ignores me. I let him.

I go make breakfast. I put it on his plate.

I trudge back up the stairs.

“Isaac, your food is on the table. It is time to eat.”

He ignores me. I let him.

One of the things we often hear is that kids become accustomed to nagging and repetition followed by force and demands.

Whenever Isaac spends time with people who follow that pattern, whenever I am “backed up” by a well meaning adult, or whenever life follows a curve that puts me in the position of nagging.. we come back to this place.

Everything talks about how we should not let ourselves get to this point.

But what about when we do? Or when others bring our children to that point for us?

I back off.

I made breakfast.
I put it on the table.
He can eat when he is hungry.

Eventually he wanders downstairs. 

He finds that someone else has eaten most of his berries.

Taken bites out of his toast.

By that point the baby is awake and nursing again.

He comes and finds me. Furious and upset. And tells me that someone took a single bite out of each of the squares of toast on his plate.

I can’t help it. I burst into laughter. Not at his upset. I am not laughing at him. I was listening very respectfully until that point. Not trying to dismiss his anger. Not being upset by it.

But the toast has me rolling with the uncontrollable giggles.

He snaps out of his anger and upset. Stares at me speechlessly.

It’s a sunny spring morning.
The ceiling fan is spinning.
The baby has popped off my boob and is smiling at me.
And my poor sweet nine year old is indignant about some unknown gremlin who has been nibbling at his toast.

I can say “sucks to be you” and say that is the consequence of leaving his food at the table. It is the consequence. Yes.

But the truth is, we have been getting along poorly lately and it’s time for us all to do some repair. It won’t help the kids get along better if I stomp my foot and try to drive home this natural consequence as a hard firm line.

Truth is, as parents we sometimes try and make natural consequences more punitive than they are to teach a lesson.

When I finish laughing I apologize for my speechlessness. And I say “Isaac, when you leave food on the table it’s risky. We live in a house with four little gremlins and a dog who loves table food.”

He’s laughing too, and says it isn’t just the kids that are gremlins, that the grownups are too.

And it’s true. We clean off the table and eat the leftovers. 

“Look. Isaac, we’ve been getting along poorly lately. I want us all to start being nicer to each other again. I’m going to start by making you more food. Can you try to be nicer across the day, too?”

He says he will.

“There are still consequences. I am not sure what berries we have left. And we are out of peanut butter. And you’ll need to wait until the baby is done nursing. And if she starts crying I’ll have to pick her up. So it will take longer. I have a lot to do today, but I want to help you deal with the consequences, okay?”

He is happy. And he starts rattling off what he can do to help. He’ll hold the baby.

I agree that would be helpful.

“And Isaac, tomorrow can you come down when I ask you to, so I won’t have to make two breakfasts?”

He nods sheepishly.

When he and I have a good strong relationship he doesn’t want to make more work for me. He doesn’t want to ignore me when I ask him something.  He seeks me out, helps out, is engaged in the things that I am doing.

It’s softer. But it gives more results.

Relationships aren’t rigid. They are compassionate. Going in both directions.

3 thoughts on “Natural Consequences Made Punitive vs Natural Consequences and Repair

  1. Again I am enthralled with your compassion and love for your children and the relationships you hold with each of them. Thank you for sharing these vignettes with us so that we may incorporate that which works for us into our own kinship connections, and on into the wider world.

    Namaste, Sarah.

  2. I just can’t tell you how helpful your blog is. You are a real inspiration, and an affirmation that gentle, positive parenting really is feasible and worth it in the short run and the long run. Thank you for sharing these moments with us.

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