Natural consequences

I am a big believer in natural consequences. I am also a big believer in making sure children understand what the natural consequence is for their actions.

Sometimes this is easier than others. You left your jacket at home, so you are cold. You decided to throw your food on the floor, now you have nothing to eat. You wet your pants, you need to change them.

Other times, this is a bit more difficult to connect because there could be so many outcomes. I'm going to use today as an example. We have a rule at our center that children must wear their shoes at all times outside. This is for safety reasons. Their feet could get hurt; between wood chips that could get stuck in their feet, tricycles that could run over toes, and everything else. I had one child decide that she was going to take her shoes off. When I asked her to put her shoes back on, she decided that this was the time to go running around the yard. Very quickly her two buddies decided to join in by kicking off their shoes and running with her.

Here's the natural consequence: you took off your shoes, so you have to sit at the table. You don't want to wear shoes? Okay! I don't want your feet to get hurt. Therefore, you can keep your shoes off and sit at the table.

Now, the rest of the consequence was a bit more because of their running from authority. Since they were quickly gaining an audience of other children in their class, I decided that it was best dealt with inside...away from nosey eyes. One child, after a bit, decided it was in her best interest to listen and came with me quietly inside. The teacher that was left outside corralled the other two quickly after and sent them in after.

It was simple: you are going to sit at the table...with nothing to do...but sit and stare...and wonder when I will be kind enough to let them up. I'm not stupid, I talked to the child who was first to take her shoes off (and first to come in). She had gotten sand and water in her shoes and that was why she had taken them off. This is fair; I would have wanted to do the same. So we talked about letting the teacher know of the situation and solving the problem. After a discussion in which she took full part in (I listened she talked); I went and got her shoes. She put them on and went back out. Why did she get to go and not the others? Because, even though it took a bit, she did come willingly and came inside on her own free will; no matter how reluctantly she did so.

The other two girls continued sitting...waiting...wondering when I would let them go too. I explained a simple fact: "When you take off your shoes outside, your only option, to keep you safe, is to sit at the table until you decide to put your shoes on again." Immediately, one of them piped up, "Miss Jenni, I want to put my shoes on." Hmmm!

"Well, here's the dilemma: You are sitting at the tables inside. You left your shoes outside. You can't possibly get up and get them, because you would have to walk in the yard without shoes...that's not allowed. What are you going to do?"

This lead to, as I planned, a conversation about listening to the teacher when she gives them instructions, keeping shoes on, and how much they have just missed in this little episode (everyone else is outside playing). After a long talk, I get their shoes for them (I had secretly brought them in with me beforehand), they put them on, and went outside. They went out with the firm instructions that they are not allowed to play with each other for the rest of the day (there was only an hour left in the day).

Was this a time out? In some definitions of the word, yes. However, this was more a consequence of their actions. You can't play and run around without shoes on. That leaves only one choice: sitting at a table. They were not left to sit at the table for a set amount of time until they could get up. No, I sat with them the entire time and, when appropriate, had conversations with them about the incident. When was it appropriate? When they began to realize the extent of how far I was willing to go. When each one came to the realization that I was willing to wait at the table until their mom's came, that's when we began talking.

Is it a natural consequence in the clinical definition of the word? No. It is in my definition. What happens when you take off your shoes? The things is, I am consistent. Anytime a child takes of his or her shoes, I have them sit at the table until they put them on again. Sometimes this only takes a minute, sometimes longer. In the end, their shoes get back on. I can out wait them all and they have come to learn that. I patiently, calmly, and consistently enforce all rules: everyone must be safe. (Okay, that's one rule) But that's all I need.

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