Monday, April 30, 2012


A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference. When you stand in the rain, you get wet. When you don’t eat, you get hungry. When you forget your coat, you get cold. No piggy backing allowed. Adults piggy back when they lecture, scold, say, "I told you so," or do anything that adds more blame, shame, or pain than the child might experience naturally from the experience.

Children usually feel bad or guilty when they make a mistake. Piggy backing lessens the learning that can occur from experiencing a natural consequence because the child stops processing the experience and focuses on absorbing or defending against the blame, shame, and pain. Instead of piggy backing, show empathy and understanding for what the child is experiencing: "I’ll bet it was hard to go hungry (get wet, get that bad grade, lose your bicycle)." When it seems appropriate, you could add, "I love you and have faith in you to handle this." It can be difficult for parents to be supportive without rescuing or overprotecting, but it is one of the most encouraging things you can do to help your children develop a sense of capability. Let’s look at an example of how natural consequences work.

Billy, a first grader, forgot his lunch every day. Mother would interrupt her busy schedule to drive to school with his lunch. After learning about natural consequences, she decided that Billy might learn to remember his lunch if he experienced the natural consequence of forgetting. She first discussed this with Billy, letting him know she was confident that he could be responsible for remembering his lunch. She also told him she would no longer bring his lunch to school if he forgot it. It is very important and respectful to discuss, in advance, when you plan to change your behavior.

Her intentions were sabotaged for a while because Billy’s teacher took over and loaned him money for lunch when he forgot. It was not until Mother and Billy’s teacher got together on a plan to allow Billy to learn from the natural consequences of his choices that his behavior changed.

Billy tested the plan. The next time he forgot his lunch, he asked his teacher if he could borrow some lunch money. She said, "I’m sorry, Billy, but we agreed that you could handle your lunch problem by yourself." Billy then phoned his mother and demanded that she bring his lunch. Mom also kindly but firmly reminded him that he could handle the problem. Billy pouted for a while, even though one of his friends gave him half a sandwich.

After that, Billy seldom forgot his lunch. When he did forget it, he managed to find someone who would share some food with him. By the time Billy reached the second grade, he added the responsibility of making his own lunch, as well as remembering to take it.

Many adults don’t have much tolerance for the whining, pouting and disappointment. Billy’s mother did not find it easy to listen to her child be demanding, and it was difficult for her to allow him to experience being upset. She noticed some guilty feelings because he was hungry, but reminded herself that forgetting his lunch was really just a small mistake, one of many Billy would make in his lifetime. If she did not follow through on her plan, he would not be learning the life skill of getting a little more organized in the morning, and the good feelings of handling a problem himself. Instead he would be learning that whenever things didn’t work out for him, he could whine or complain and get someone else to take care of his problems. Looking at it that way, Mother was able to stay calmer.

Even though natural consequences often help children learn responsibility, there are times when natural consequences are not practical:

1. When a child is in danger. Adults cannot allow a child to experience the natural consequences of playing in the street, for example.

2. When natural consequences interfere with the rights of others. Adults cannot allow the natural con- sequences of allowing a child to throw rocks at another person, for example. This is one reason why supervision is especially important with children under the age of four. The only way you can prevent potential dangerous situations for children this age is to supervise so you can rush in and prevent a dangerous occurrence.

3. When the results of children’s behavior do not seem like a problem to them and the natural consequences will adversely affect their health and well being. For example, it does not seem like a problem to some children if they don’t take a bath, don’t brush their teeth, don’t do their homework, or eat tons of junk food.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Limit Screen Time

Would it surprise you to know that two to five-year-olds watch more than 32 hours of TV a week? Six to eleven-year-olds spend more hours in school, so they watch a little less TV—about 28 hour a week. (Nielsen)

What does this mean? Is it good or bad? The debate goes on.

Of course children are learning some skills their parents never had, but they are also missing out on some skills that could be very important to them—such as personal relationship skills, delayed gratification skills, and planning for solutions that may take more than 3 minutes or even three days to accomplish.

Then there is brain research that demonstrates how the brain develops differently with excessive screen time. You can learn more about this by reading any of the many books being published on this subject. You might want to do your own research on this topic.

My guess is that you know from your own wisdom and intuition that your children may be watching too much TV, but you aren’t sure what to do about it. Or, do you avoid doing something about it for any of the following reasons:

  1. You don’t like to admit that it is nice to have your children so easily entertained so you can have some time to yourself.
  2. It involves such a power struggle to get the kids to stop watching TV or playing video games and get them to do something else. It is easier to just let it go.
  3. You don’t realize that screen-time is addictive.
  4. You tell yourself all the benefits of TV watching and video game playing—“Look at all the skills my child is learning.”

There was a program on Oprah where families where challenged to give up electronics for a week, including TV. It was interesting to watch how difficult it was for parents, as well as their children, to give up all their screens. One scene was particularly difficult to watch. A five-year-old boy could hardly stand it to give up playing video games. His temper tantrums were quite dramatic. His mother shared that she was embarrassed when she realized he had been playing video games for five-hours a day and was seriously addicted. The good news was that after the whole family went through “withdrawal” symptoms, they learned to replace all the screen time with family activities that increased their family closeness and enjoyment. Watch the following video from the Today Show about one family who gave up all screens for six months.

The best example I have ever seen for regulating screen time was a family that included Mom, Dad, and five boys. These wise parents knew that screen time could interfere with family time, chore time, school time, and outdoor time. They set up a system of allowing only one computer in the family room of the house. Family members had to negotiate for time on the computer. Since it was in the family room, everyone knew what was being done on the computer. When I visited their home, I was amazed by the positive atmosphere and abundant energy. It was clear that limiting screen time had given this family the opportunity to enjoy other pleasures and learning opportunities and also brought them closer together.

This may not work for you, but the more you learn about screen addiction, the more you will realize how important it is to manage screen time so it doesn't manage you and your family.

If you are convinced that it would be a good idea to limit screen time, how do you start?

  1. Have a family meeting.
  2. Start with compliments—each member of the family sharing what they appreciate about every other member of the family.
  3. Using very few words, admit that you have made a mistake in allowing so much screen time.
  4. Allow all family members a chance to share their thoughts and feelings about this mistake.
  5. Remain kind and firm while insisting that screen time must be reduced.
  6. Get the whole family involved in a plan for reducing screen time. Part of the solutions should include things to do in place of screen time. It is more difficult to give something up when you don’t have plans for what else to do.
  7. Don’t expect it to be easy. If there is too much conflict during the first family meeting, table the item and try again the next day when everyone has had time calm down and think about solutions.
  8. If your kids are old enough, ask them to do research on the internet on the effects of too much screen time.
Many more ideas and tools can be found in the new eBook by Jane Nelsen and Kelly Bartlett: Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens. (Yikes! So Am I).