Chocolate and Gold Coins

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Natural Consequences

My six-year-old son is normally very good: obedient, respectful, considerate, and caring. Any parent would find such a son to be a real joy.

But sometimes he can act up. He has a temper. He hates to lose in games. When he loses, he can really throw a temper-tantrum. Honestly, that is his only weakness. Maybe we shouldn’t play games with him, but I feel that we should (and we shouldn’t contrive to lose all those games) because he has to learn to deal with his emotions. Life isn’t always about winning. Sometimes you have to put emotions aside and deal with setbacks.

He isn’t learning that lesson very quickly. Recently, my wife purchased a Gameboy (not a cheap toy). He would play with it for hours and get frustrated. He would always finish in last place (he was competing against several other computer-generated competitors). We would tell him to give it a rest.

Yesterday, he became so enraged that he took his new Gameboy and literally destroyed it. I was shocked; he never did anything like that before. Then he cried for a half an hour when he discovered that we weren’t going to get him another one. In fact, he is slowly realizing that he won’t be getting any new gifts for some time.

Both my wife and I agree that we do not need to punish our son in any other way than to deny him new toys for a while. This is an example of natural consequences: if you act foolishly, you hurt yourself, and hopefully you learn from the mistake. It is an important lesson for my son to learn, and there is no other way to learn it. If we make a “bigger deal” out destroying his toy, then we send him the wrong message: his things aren’t really his, they’re ours. He will never learn to respect private property unless he has it.

In general, society makes a mistake when we compensate fools for their own foolishness. Natural consequences are tough, but important, lessons. Freedom is freedom to mess up your life, and we should respect that. Trying to prevent it just subsidizes foolishness, and keeps people as children forever. That’s why I hate stories like the woman who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonalds’s for a princely sum.

Postscript My son came up with a novel explanation for why he deserved another Gameboy: we didn’t warn him that if he destroyed his toys he would not get a replacement. He has the mind of a future lawyer, no doubt. I doubt this is a good thing.


  • I hope that you will stick with your plan. There is not much that will teach a better lesson. As a parent my hardest chore has been sticking with what I know will be better for my kids, because it is harder.

    By Blogger Suzi, at 8:24 PM  

  • Hi Suzi
    Thanks for the comment.

    It won't be hard for me the stick to that plan. I wasn't the one who wanted to give my son a Gameboy. In general, though, it can be difficult to not feel pity and give in to the child's requests. My wife has found it difficult to stick with the plan in the past. I shall remind her if she forgets.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 8:41 PM  

  • In French, there's a proverb that goes "Nul n'est censé ignorer la loi" that can be translated approximately by "No one is supposed to be unaware of the law." It means that you're responsible for your own knowledge of the law. Here's a good opportunity to teach your futur lawyer this civil law principle.

    When 18, I was given an electronic chessboard. I lost every single game I played with it. I didn't crush the machine, but I certainly gave up chess.

    By Blogger Mozza, at 3:01 PM  

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