Some kids need problem-solving skills as well as consequences

It doesn’t matter what parenting book you crack open, there is almost always a chapter on consequences. When your child struggles, the implied advice from experts shouts: “It’s your fault, parents!” They insist that if your child does not learn from consequences, it is because you, the parent, did not select the right consequence, or else you were not consistent about enforcing them.

Then there are the so-called “natural consequences.” Instead of punishing a child, you are supposed to let the natural consequence do the teaching. If you tell a kid not to touch the stove and he touches it anyway, the natural consequence is that he gets burned. That’s supposed to be more effective than Mom going blue in the face lecturing about the dangers of stovetops.

When I was a brand-new parent I bought into this so-called wisdom, but now I’ve had time to ponder. When I look outside my home into the real world I see examples of consequences not working all the time.

Weight gain is the perfect example. We all know that the natural consequence of consuming too many calories is fat. For some people, this is enough to change behavior. The rest of us will eat an entire box of Girl Scout cookies when nobody is looking. (The two sleeves are serving sizes, right?)

Or what about spending habits? If I bought everything I owned from Value Village I could be typing this column with a smug expression instead of having just cried “Eeek!” after opening up my credit card bill.

Then there’s smoking. Many of us have seen loved ones die from emphysema or lung cancer. For some of us, this is enough to make us never even think about touching a cigarette. Other people become so addicted to nicotine that it doesn’t matter how extreme the consequence, they won’t stop. We’ve all seen pictures of people smoking cigarettes through holes in their neck. The brain wants what the brain wants. For many smokers, natural consequences don’t do squat.

When parenting experts focus on consequences it makes me feel like they are saying: “Let us teach you how to implement consequences properly because you obviously do not know what you are doing.” Again with the parent-blaming.

Well I’m a parent who has believed these experts and I feel tricked. Are consequences important? Absolutely. Will they magically change every child’s behavior? No way.

Some kids learn from consequences, others ram into them again and again to everyone’s horror. Some brains are hard-wired for challenges that consequences don’t solve.

Here’s a wild idea. Instead of relying on consequences to do the teaching let’s actually teach kids the problem-solving skills they need to make good decisions in the first place. Let’s create new ways to help them.

Relying on fat and credit card bills to teach me about health and saving would be stupid. Training me to cook and budget would be a lot more effective.

Kids need training too.

Especially the ones who touch the hot stove over and over again.

Jennifer Bardsley lives in Edmonds. Her book “Genesis Girl” comes out June 14th. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, Twitter @jennbardsley or at

Talk to us

More in Life

Photos by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times 

The Jacob and Sarah Ebey House will open to public visitors Memorial Day weekend.
A landmark steeped in 19th century history reopens on Whidbey

Beginning May 28, you can venture inside one of the state’s oldest buildings: The Jacob and Sarah Ebey House, which dates from the 1850s.

Caption: Incorporating frozen vegetables into your menu plan is a fast and cost-effective way to save money on rising food costs.
The secrets of cheap meals: frozen veggies and slow cookers

They not only stretch your food budget, but also timesaving godsends for busy parents. Here are three recipes to try.

Cinderella_Red.jpg: Red Riding Hood (Katelynn Carlson) gets advice from Cinderella (Grace Helmcke) in Red Curtain’s production of Into the Woods, running May 20-June 5 at the Red Curtain Arts Center, 9315 State Ave. in Marysville.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Marysville troupe stages a Stephen Sondheim musical masterpiece. Jazz, featuring the sons of legend Dave Brubeck, takes over Edmonds. And there’s this music festival in downtown Everett …

Navigating the rough, often scary seas of a hospital stay

After helping a friend who underwent major surgery, Paul Schoenfeld reflects on ways to cope for patients and their loved ones.

Sam Bowles records the run off the water from a chalk drawing with friend and co-artist, Rhyanna Mercer, Tuesday afternoon in Everett, Washington on May 10, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jackson High’s global TikTok star is chalk full of ideas

Sam Bowles, 18, uses vibrant videos and social media fame to raise awareness of autism.

I canceled my flight to Frankfurt, but now I can’t use my credit

Melissa Crespo receives a $2,060 ticket credit when she cancels her flights to Frankfurt, Germany. But now her online agency has told her she can only use 25% of the credit at a time. Can it do that?

Lonicera ciliosa, commonly called orange honeysuckle or western trumpet vine. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: orange honeysuckle

Its orange trumpets announce spring is here, and hummingbirds are irresistibly drawn to it.

Home & garden happenings in Snohomish County

The Mill Creek Garden Tour will return this summer after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.

Photo Caption: Would you believe a zipper sold for $18,450 at Morphy Auctions? What about a diamond necklace that looks and works like a zipper?
X-Y-Z spells ‘big money’ with this high-fashion zipper

It’s actually a necklace, but the zipper function works. Someone paid nearly $18,500 for it at a recent auction.

Most Read