Investigating natural consequences
(This may seem like a parenting article at first, but bear with me.)
90% of the stressful situations I have with my kids are about forcing my schedule onto them.
Be it a daily battle to go to school, a social event, a doctor's appointment, all of these have in common arbitrary time delimitations – schedules – which are useful for social living, but also entirely cultural and hard to justify for a young, developing brain.
From the many child development philosophies my wife and I have investigated so far, the Montessori method is consistently the most relatable and actionable. One of its tenets is that the most effective way to adjust child behavior is by expressing the natural consequences of what their actions.
Instead of using behavioral approaches, like rewards and punishments, we aim to respect the child's intelligence and explain, in age-appropriate ways, the consequences of their actions. Instead of not eating from the floor because it's disgusting, it's because your tummy can hurt. Instead of trying to force them to sleep, you explain they may be too tired the next day to enjoy the playground.
But this is quite hard to accomplish when it comes to time-related conflicts for young kids. What's the consequence of being 5 minutes late to pre-school; won't the teachers be there then? So what if mom will be late for work; can't she continue working later? Etiquette also suffers from this: what's really going to happen if you talk while chewing?
The mental clarity which we need to articulate the natural consequence of their actions seems to trip over what are ultimately just social conventions. So they resist.
I think we do it to ourselves too.
A lot of adult anxiety seems to come from unclear natural consequences.
We find ourselves doing things which are apparently expected of us, but we can't quite explain why. We work jobs we don't like and don't need, invest time with friends we don't enjoy, spend money on things we don't need. All of those breed anxiety, discomfort, emptiness.
We follow extraneous rules, some large societal equivalent of just getting-in-the-damn-car-to-go-to-school, we can't quite see the natural consequences. Because they aren't really there. It can be all a house of cards of unjustified models and expectations which don't need to apply to us, but we just don't see them as such.
But because we are supposedly grownups, instead of throwing tantrums, we keep our revolt to ourselves. We drink, we fight, we swallow and let it fester.
We can set ourselves free though, by investigating the natural consequence of our choices.
What will really happen if you don't follow what's expected of you? What if you start with the consequences which actually matter to you, and act to support those.
You may just get in the car and go.