An example of natural consequences might be when son A stomps on son B’s sand castle and son B chases down son A as he runs away. When caught, son B punches son A and gives him a few choice words. A parent may observe this and think, “Those are the natural consequences of son A’s actions, he got what he deserved and now he will learn to not stomp on son B’s sand castle ever again.”
But, I guarantee you that son A did not learn what his parent thinks he learned. He did not learn to respect other people’s possessions. He did not learn to not touch other people’s things without asking. And he did not learn that only the person that built something has the right to destroy or to give permission to destroy it. I am quite sure the only thing son A is thinking is, “I need to learn to run faster.”
Natural consequences still need explaining. A child will rarely connect the natural consequences with their doing unless it is pointed out to them by a parent. A parent not only needs to explain how the action and the result are connected, they need to point out what is to be learned from the experience. As the example above points out, we must keep our children from walking away with the wrong lesson.
In general, natural consequences are too vague and not a good way of training in righteousness. I would say there are a few times in every child’s life that the consequences are so clear and the child is so sorry they did whatever they did that the “natural consequences” are enough, but in general natural consequences are not enough for a child to learn from their mistakes.
Unfortunately, it appears that as parent’s we want to let natural consequences do our training because we are too lazy to do the active training required in Proverbs. Just in chapter four of Proverbs alone a father taught his son and said, “Lay hold of my words”, “keep my commands”, do not forget my words”, “pay attention to what I say”, and “listen closely to my words.”
That sounds like a lot of talking, a lot of directing by the parent. We are not commissioned to sit back and watch, we are called to pass on commands, teach, guide, train and speak Truth.
If natural consequences are “experiencing the pain brought on by one’s own misdeeds”, couldn’t a parent’s discipline be natural consequences? Proverbs 3 says, “the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
And no discipline is complete without training in righteousness, so along with pointing out the wrong done and administering consequences or discipline, a parent must always explain what the right thing would be for the child to do in the future.
We have a choice, allow “natural consequences” to teach their very unclear lessons or apply natural consequences that train a child in the way they should go.