Today’s guest post is from mom of four, Ruby Reveles. Ruby serves as a G0-To Girl for Hearts at Home which means she tells every mom she knows about Hearts at Home and the Hearts at Home conferences! (By the way, tomorrow is the Best Value Registration deadline for the upcoming North Central Conference!)
Recently I had coffee with our Chicago area Go-To Girls and Ruby shared her story of the Secret Good Ninja. We were all inspired by her parenting creativity and I told her that I wanted to share it on the blog!
If you are dealing with a tough situation with one of your kids, consider this creative way to turn it around! This is No More Perfect Kids in action!
Last fall, my son had a rough start to the school year. I have a houseful of boys and have gotten more than my share of calls from the school, so trust me when I say that it was rough. The thing is… this isn’t a rough kid.
He is bright, thoughtful, eager to please and a quick learner. He is compassionate and self-sacrificing. He is devastated by getting into trouble, but this boy was suddenly in a lot of trouble.
It started the first week of school with a teacher who was brand new, and also eager to please her new employer. My son broke a pencil in class (because he was “bored” he said) so she “flipped his card” to Yellow. A couple days later, songs from music class were stuck in his head, so his card was flipped for singing to himself during quiet time. Then it was flipped because he jumped from step to step, instead of walking down the stairs. With each message from the school, I saw more dramatic changes in his personality at home. He became tearful and angry. He argued quickly and was defensive about everything. He fought with his brothers often and became physically aggressive with them. When we gave consequences or tried to talk with him, he adopted a hardened attitude, complete with the chin thrust out and arms crossed, eyes rolling and glazed.
My son had already learned that the new teacher thought he was a troublemaker, and he was living up to those expectations. I begged the teacher to intervene in ways that wouldn’t “label” my child. These weren’t transgressions that were malicious. He didn’t deserve to be labeled a “troublemaker” because he was bored. Flipping his card devastated him. He needed so much more than the dismissive consequences she gave.
By the third week of the school year, his card was getting flipped for things that finally deserved consequences, like physical aggression and insulting others. I again met with the teacher and I believe that she really cared about my son. She was just following the structured behavior program as advised, and trying to please her supervisors. She understood the desire to please, and met with my son to encourage him. She agreed to tailor her responses to his individual needs, and offer more positive reinforcement.
That wasn’t enough though. My son needed his own plan of action. That weekend, I talked for a long time with my son. I listened to his heart breaking and saw his desire to be seen as good. He wanted to not just be good, but to be known as good. I saw the guilt and shame he carried with him constantly. I heard the pain of knowing people were watching him, expecting him to make mistakes, but not wanting that kind of attention ever again. His intentions were rarely to hurt others, except when he was so hurt and angry it seemed he didn’t know how to control those emotions anymore. My reassurances of love weren’t enough to carry him through the long school day, when he believed that everyone around him saw him as “bad.” My son was desperate for a fresh start, free from the labels that were being placed on him.
Then a lightbulb went on for me and I decided to lead my son through this from a completely different angle. Together, my son and I developed a plan. We focused on what motivates him and how he enjoys helping others. Random acts of kindness could remind him that he is making good choices. His spirit was so broken though, that he even had difficulty seeing where others needed help. His goal for the first week was so basic… just two acts of kindness a day. Simple things. Acting on any opportunity he saw. I think one of the first was picking up someone’s pencil and putting it on their desk before they realized it had rolled away. The key for him was doing something kind without anyone seeing him do it. Only he knew. But he knew he had made a right choice, and it gave him the power to help another person later in the day.
My son’s goal became being quiet and covert, hidden from view of everyone, but making good choices. He had a purpose. Seeing this as his “Secret Mission” affirmed him and gave him an identity… an identity that contradicted the label he’d been wearing. He would be Good. He could move like a Ninja, stealthily and without detection. Together we decided he would become “The Secret Good Ninja.”
Part of the plan required daily reports on his mission. My young ninja would pull me aside secretly every night to tell me who he had helped and how. His eyes would light up as he told me what he had done, and how fun it was to do it secretly, and the thrills of someone almost catching him in the act!
The teacher was his only “ally” at school… the only one who knew of his Secret Mission. We devised a code between the three of us where he could report in on his daily planner, and she could reward his efforts with stars or stickers. At home, we believed every day without a problem at the school was a victory, and we cheered him on! I encouraged him by suggesting ideas for new missions he could seek out the next day. After a week of success, he earned a reward: dinner out alone with Dad. After all, secret spies only meet the “boss” when they are moving up in the company!
We made his Secret Mission as fun as we could. We encouraged. We continually reminded our son that God created him, and that he truly is Good. He slipped a time or two, but as he played this role, his secret identity grew stronger within him. He became more confident. Gradually, it became okay for others to see his actions and good deeds, because he was more comfortable with who he was again. Soon his role of “The Secret Good Ninja” didn’t need to be “Secret” anymore, and then he forgot the “Ninja” role… until he was just “Good”.
After all, that was only title that he really wanted in the first place.
What about you? Have you ever helped your child turn around a bad situation in some creative way?