Teaching Children - Should You Let Nature Take Its Course Or Intervene?
By Donald Saunders
One tough dilemma for any parent is to know when to let children
learn for themselves from the consequences of their own actions and
when to intervene to teach them a lesson. This is sometimes referred
to as natural consequences or logical consequences and the principle
is simple but its execution is not always easy.
A common example of a natural consequence might be
seen in the kitchen where if a child touches the hotplate while
you're cooking he'll burn his hand. Here the child learns a lesson
from nature without any need for you to intervene. However, this is
perhaps something of an extreme example.
Let's say a child wants to buy a model airplane and
that you agree to help by paying him to wash the car each week,
rather than taking it as you normally would to the carwash, so that
he can save enough money to buy the model. However, with money in
his pocket he can't resist the temptation to spend it and by the
time he should have saved enough for the model airplane he's already
spent most or all of his money on junk. At this point of course he
probably still expects to receive the model airplane and is
surprised when he doesn't.
In both of these cases the child has learn a
valuable lesson from the natural consequences of his own actions and
you have played no active part in teaching him these lessons. This
is perhaps the best way to teach any lesson and the child benefits
whether the result is good or bad. If the child had not for example
spent the money earned by washing the car and had been able to buy
the model he would equally have learned the value of working and
saving for something and would also have learned the value of the
model itself, since he had to work and save to get it.
But let's return to the example of the child putting
his hand on the hotplate. This is certainly one way for the child to
learn a lesson but no parent is going to stand by and watch their
child learn a lesson in this manner. In many cases the consequences
of a child's action are serious or long-lasting and you need to
intervene and find some other way to teach the child the lesson he
needs to learn.
The secret here is to ensure that your intervention
is seen as part of the logical consequence had the child been
allowed to learn the lesson without your intervention.
Let's say for example that your teenage daughter
rents a movie from the local corner shop but forgets to return it on
time so that she incurs a late fee. Now, assuming that she doesn't
have the money to pay the late fee, you give her the money so that
she can return the movie.
At this point you could punish her by forbidding her
to rent any further movies for the next month but this is not a
logical consequence of her action of not returning the movie on
time, which was to incur a late fee. It would be far better
therefore to punish her by deducting the late fee from her
allowance. Because this punishment is directly related to the late
return of the movie she is much more likely to remember to return
the next movie she rents on time.
Some lessons of course are easier to teach than
others. If your seventeen year old son has unprotected sex with his
sixteen year old girlfriend the natural consequences of an unwanted
pregnancy could have life-long consequences. But how do you
intervene to stop this happening?
Unfortunately there's no simple answer to this one
and how you tackle the problem will depend very much upon your own
personal and family circumstances and the relationship which you
have built up with your son. What is certain is that you cannot
simply sit back and let nature take its course if you feel that
there is a danger of your son getting himself into trouble.
For each and every situation that faces us as
parents we have to decide whether our children can learn for
themselves through their own experience, or whether we need to
intervene to help in the learning process. In addition, having
decided that intervention is necessary we need to intervene wherever
possible in a manner that follows the natural consequences of the
child's action. Here there is no stock answer to the problem and you
need to be guided by your own experience.
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