My partner, Alana, and I were at TURF music festival a couple of weekends ago. We had left our daughter at home for the weekend and we were surprised to see how many families came with their little ones. It was fabulous to see – she will join us next year. On the Friday, and first day of the festival, we were having some snacks, laying on our blanket taking in one of the shows and we noticed one of the couples had identical twin boys about 6 years old. We started watching these boys play because a few things stood out for us. Firstly, they were beating the snot out of one another. Second, the parents were seemingly completely unfazed by what was happening.
Unconventional Parenting Moments:
This fighting continued for well over an hour. Fists were flying and the two boys would chase each other, with the aggressor attacking the victim and after a minute or two they would switch. There were no faux weapons used, no fingers became guns, no sticks became swords – it was just some ol’ fashion fistacuffs. At the halfway mark of this particular fight-fest, one of the brothers socked the other cleanly in the nose and blood shot everywhere. The mother calmly turned around and pinched the bleeding nose with a napkin. There was no tattling, no tears, no blaming of the brothers, just medical care with very little negative emotional response. I am definitely not saying the mother was cold. She smiled at both boys and the father walked up from the food stands and chuckled at the twins. The boys were retelling the story to the dad, also laughing. We did not need to hear them, you could see the excitement about the event in their body language and facial expressions. After the nose had stopped bleeding, the parents turned around to go back to watching the concert and the boys returned to fighting in the grass.
My partner and I discussed this family off and on all weekend.
Embracing Natural Consequences in Child’s Play
We both agreed it was great to see children allowed to have a raw free-play playing session. Again, they were not pretending to use guns or other weapons, they practiced sportsmanlike behaviour (when one brother fell to the ground, the fighting stopped until he had returned to his feet) and they had the experience of natural consequences.
Natural Consequences are automatic and unpleasant outcomes that occur as a direct result of a child’s choices and since these results mimic the way consequences actually work in the real world, they make intuitive sense to children. For example, your child insists they do not have to wear a raincoat at recess, they go out without it, they get wet and possibly cold and do not enjoy the activity that was happening outside and now have to sit at their desk wet for the rest of the school day. Next time they will probably wear their coat when it is raining outside at recess.
In the instance of these twins, they were making a choice to fight; this meant that they could or would get hurt. This was part of the game and the parents allowed this to play out and everyone won in this situation. The boys got to play the game that they wanted (one that was allowing them to burn off steam, stay active and probably have a great sleep that night) and the parents got to enjoy the concert and have their children present and as involved as the twins wanted to be.
Finding Balance in Parenting
There are some parenting theorists that feel that natural consequences is a cold and uncaring way to parent. “The natural consequences approach is really a form of punishment – punishment lite- and can be more humiliating and make a child feel worse when accompanied by ‘ I told you so’ , ‘ It serves you right ‘ or I hope you have learned your lesson’” says Alfie Kohn in his book Unconditional Parenting (2005). I think there is a happy medium to this, like any parenting model or theory. We can support our child(ren) with age appropriate care through their natural consequence, just as the mother provided care for her son’s bloody nose from the fight. The lesson was still there, you make the choice to fight and get punched in the face, you will get hurt and your nose will bleed AND I will still take care of you and love you.
Since this family had been the subject of so much discussion over the weekend for my partner and I, we were thrilled when we crossed paths with them two days later at the closing concert. They were without the twins and we seized the opportunity to tell them how much we respected their parenting model – well, at least the parts we got to witness. The mother told us that she was so grateful for the feedback since she sometimes doubts herself since she gets so many judgemental looks from strangers who witness her using the natural consequences model with her boys. We gave her our gold star and everyone left feeling great about the exchange.
Alana and I parent using natural consequences and we have chosen to send Gray, our 8 year old daughter, to a holistic outdoor school that also reinforces the model. Gray knows she needs to wear appropriate clothing for the day’s weather and that came from having moments of being too cold, too hot, or wet during the school day. Alana and I purchase all of the appropriate clothing and footwear she would need for any weather, we make suggestions, and Gray ultimately decides what she is going to wear. It is important for children to have these experiences and consequences. Parents and caregivers can make them gentle and age appropriate, thereby offering empowerment through experience for children of all ages.
We would love to hear from you, comment below to let us know what you think. If you have used natural consequences we would love to hear how it went or if you do not use it, why?
Oh, and here is my shameless name dropping… Me and Passenger after his show, don’t ya know…
Bianca Sprague is a birth doula, lactation educator and childbirth educator. She and her partner Alana are the moms to their 8 year old daughter, Gray. Bianca is the co-owner of bebo mia and Baby & Me Fitness.
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