This is a picture of me holding a first-melted-and-then-frozen candy bar on my forehead (Where did our ice pack go?? And how long has this candy bar been in our freezer?) after 17-month-old M hit me in the forehead with the spine of his Courderoy's Shapes board book. It was a hard hit. A fast hit I didn't see coming until I was clutching my head and involuntarily groaning for like two minutes.
After the pain subsided a bit, I had some anger. Being hit in the head will do that. I was thinking, "How many times do I have to tell you to use gentle hands and not to hit?!" He's going through a hitting phase, and worse, he thinks it's funny or at least doesn't seem to have empathy when you're clutching your head, going, "Aaaaggghhhh." And whatever I've been doing to teach him better isn't working.
In the next moments, I had serious self-reflective, strategizing, head-throbbing, intentional parenting thoughts about whether it would be better to have natural or logical consequences, and what is the difference anyway?
Up until now, I've been going the logical consequence route with hitting. A logical consequence is a consequence connected to the incident. So if M hits me with his drumsticks, then I explain we don't hit people, and if he does it again, he won't get to play with the drumsticks. He hits again, so I take away the drumsticks. My reasoning for the logical consequence is that hitting is a safety issue, and that I need to remove whatever is it he's using to hit in order to create a safe space for everyone. Plus then he'll learn he doesn't get to use things if he hits people. Except...one, he obviously isn't learning that. And two, the lessons he will learn from natural consequences are much more valuable.
A natural consequence is simply what occurs naturally after an incident without me manipulating or adding to the situation. M hit me with his book. The natural consequence is that it caused me pain. That's it. How is that helpful? Well, if he isn't distracted with his sadness or anger over having his favorite book taken away, then the only thing to focus on in the moment is how the other person is feeling. He's been learning cause and effect since the newborn days, so if he's not distracted by logical consequences, he has time to process the cause and effect. He hit me with the book. I was in pain. If he processes this time after time, he's going to truly understand the connection and something amazing and essential will occur in him. Empathy.
So am I going to let him hit me with things just to learn from natural consequences? Heck no. I mean, it'll happen when I don't see it coming, and he'll learn in those instances. But I'm going to be proactive when I can about stopping him from hitting. This is where logical consequences get in the way of another great teaching opportunity. If I take away his toy, he learns that I'll take away his toy, and that's it. Or I could stop him from hitting, remind him about gentle hands, and show him how to use the drumsticks, the book, or his hands as they should be used. Plus, even more importantly, this shows him that I will help him through tough situations. We can figure out how the world works together. And in the future, when he doesn't quite make the right choice, I'm not the mom who takes away, but I'm the mom who helps figure things out.
Logical consequences create a barrier. A barrier to learning and a barrier between child and parent. But natural consequences and working together to find a solution teaches the right lessons and creates a strong bond, trust, and openness between child and parent.
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