Friday, May 4, 2012

Natural Consequences: Helping Kids Learn from Their Choices

Eric, Julie's 16 year old son, hurries through the house, running a bit late as usual.  Eric decides he is not hungry enough to eat before leaving the house.  Julie knows that Eric has several hours of band practice today, in addition to his normal full day at school.  While she could push him to eat something, Julie recognizes this is another great learning opportunity for Eric while the cost of that lesson is still relatively cheap.  Why is she thinking that?  Let's take a quick look and see.

Life is full of decisions.  As adults, the easier and better those decisions are, the lower our stress levels are and the greater our life satisfaction is.  Our kids will need great decision making skills as adults.  The way to help them get there is to offer plenty of choices from a young age, all of which are acceptable to you as the parent.   "Would you like to do your homework now or after your snack?"  "Do you want to go see your friend today or tomorrow after school?"  "Do you want to read your book or play a game of cards with me right now?"  When our kids are young, the scale of their decisions is relatively limited.  Any poor choices, with the natural consequences that follow, come at  a relatively small expense - a bargain in the learning arena.

As our kids mature, we as parents gradually step back and give them more and more power to make decisions in their lives.  At a late high school and early adult level, the scale of these decisions are much farther reaching.  "You've been having trouble getting out the door on time for your high school classes lately.  What might you do to keep from having to hire someone to get you there?"  An older teen or young adult who regularly chooses to spend time with friends when he or she needs to be studying will likely struggle academically, which may limit or eliminate the possibility of attending college.  He or she might choose to take risks while driving, resulting in a serious accident.  Regardless, the ever widening scope of their control over their own lives leaves them open to more serious consequences when a poor choice is made.

Our daily decisions bring natural consequences in our adult lives.  One of the best ways to help our kids mature is to lovingly let them make as many decisions as possible while they are young. 

And what of Julie and Eric?  The next morning, a wiser Eric noted that he'd better eat a good breakfast because, "today is going to be a very long day".  Another important lesson learned!