Tonight I had an epiphany. Okay, it wasn't anything new or original, but it is life-changing.
My son left for school this morning angry. When I wouldn't allow him to take a set of paint brushes to school (in obedience to a school rule), he proceeded to yell at me, using a slew of very original 7-year-old insults. All this while he was running to catch the bus. All I could do was remind him that after school he would have to have a consequence for his actions.
I entered the house, completely baffled by what that consequence should be. For this particular child, time outs and removal of privileges has never worked. Since I had 8 hours to think about it, I wanted to come up with something new. But, when 4:00 rolled around and I heard the bus go by, I still hadn't thought of the right solution. But, as he came through the door, it started coming together.
I asked him to write an essay about the power of words. He looked at me with a very baffled expression. I'm sure he was thinking, "What happened to a simple time out?" or, "Why can't you just take away the wii?" He got upset and stormed to his room, but emerged minutes later asking me to explain again what the assignment was. I explained that I wanted him to think about what name-calling and negative words could do to someone and write about it. He came up with "It makes them sad." Exactly. But, I wanted him to learn more. So, we went to the internet to research the Power of Words. When I googled the term, all sorts of things came up and we read some of them together. He read that words pierce the heart and leave a lasting impression. He read that it hurts someone's spirit more than physical pain can hurt their body. He seemed to genuinely start to understand.
But then came the epiphany. Here I was spending all my time focusing only on the behavior I didn't like. I needed to help him learn how to exchange that behavior for the behavior I wanted to see: kind words, uplifting conversations, etc.
I pulled up the following youtube video and asked him to watch it. Then, he was to finish his report on the Power of Words. Watch it. It's well worth the watch and the lesson that it teaches:
He came upstairs completely calm and easily shared with me the Power of Words in the most perfectly 7-year-old way. "Words can hurt or words can make people smile. Good words can help people who feel sad feel happy again." And he must have understood the lesson. For the rest of the evening, he was validating everyone. Jayden got praised for his efforts on the wii. My cut-up hoagies that passed as breadsticks got raving reviews. His sister was thanked for helping me with the baby.
My epiphany was this: Too often I spend too much time punishing my kids for bad behavior and not enough time teaching them how to overcome it.
I'm convinced that my son knows that name-calling and yelling at people is inappropriate. But, before today, I'm not sure I ever took the time to really teach him how to build people up or how to compliment people sincerely. It was a lesson learned for both of us.