“Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” â€” Josh McDowell
It is so much easier to lecture “Do not! What is wrong with you?” and label “You’re a bully!” “He has ADHD.” than it is to engage “What are you thinking about?” and encourage. “You are so brave! You would be great at building skyscrapers!”
Children who are fearless, strong, and driven, who can organize others and see the world as their playground — imagine how awesome their potential if given the tools (and challenges) to be good leaders.
One of my favorite stories to read to children is The Fire Cat.
Pickles is an awkward, homeless, yellow cat with black spots and very large paws. The other cats are afraid of him because he chases them up a very tall tree — because he can. They avoid Pickles and say, “You are a bad cat. You cannot be our friend.”
Mrs. Goodkind, a neighbor, takes Pickles into her fancy formal home and by gives him cat toys. She tries to reprogram him to be an common cat.
He quickly becomes bored and chooses to goes back to his outdoor barrel and his old ways.
One rainy, windy day, Pickles finds himself stuck in the very same tree he would use to terrorize the other cats.
Mrs. Goodkind could have given him what he deserved and left him for dead in the tree, but she compassionately called the fire department to rescue Pickles.
When he is safely back on the ground, Mrs. Goodkind doesn’t embarrass him or scold Pickles in front of Fireman Joe. Instead, she points out his big paws and praises potential. She re-frames his behavior. “Pickles is a cat who wishes to do big things,” she says. “Someday, he will do them. Look at his paws.”
Fireman Joe gets permission from the Chief to allow Pickles to live at the firehouse.
With much determination, Pickles learns how to be a firecat. He makes friends with all of the firemen, but still has trouble relating to the neighborhood cats. He chases them away when they get too close to the firehouse.
The Chief never responded by squashing Pickles’ spirit or kicking him out of the firehouse. He just quietly observed.
When the time was right, after the Chief has established a relationship, he pulled Pickles aside and said, “A Firecat must be kind to everyone. You must be good to other cats.” As a mentor, as someone who believed in him, as someone whom Pickles looked up to, the Chief — portrayed as a rather scary guy himself — let Pickles know it was okay to be both strong and kind. It didn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.
Sometimes people with big paws need to be told this, too.
A few months ago, a “bully” was chasing kids through my yard and plowed through my fence, knocking the gate off its hinges. He fled the scene. The loud crash of wood hitting concrete alerted me to the problem. I tracked down the boy’s mother and asked if he could come back to help me fix the gate.
Reluctantly, he came over. He helped me lift the gate and carefully guide the pegs back into the hinges. After it was fixed, he said he was sorry.
I thanked him for his help and said, “You’re strong guy. Would you like to help me clean up my yard?”
He grinned and recruited his little posse. Ten trash bags full of twigs and prickly holly leaves later, I bought them all ice cream and we sat and talked for a while.
When he talks to me now, it isn’t about baseball or riding his bike (although he is very good at those things), but it is about trying to navigate through his world without a dad. It’s about worrying his mom is having a hard time at work, and that he is disappointing her with his low grade in math. It’s about the desire to amount to something.
Little by little, he is changing. He is smiling more. He is including the younger children instead of chasing them through my yard.
I’ve often thought about how easy it would have been on that day to yell at him, call the police, or tell my children to stay away from him.
I certainly would have missed out on the the privilege of being his friend.
Re-Framing Negative Behavior:
aggressive / assertive
anxious / cautious; concerned
boisterous / enthusiastic
bossy / a leader
brooding / serious
chatterbox / communicative
clingy / loving
controlling / determined
disruptive / eager
distractible / perceptive
dreamy / imaginative
explosive / dramatic
fearful / sensitive
forceful / determined
giddy / good-humored
high strung / energetic; enthusiastic
hyper / loves to move
hyper-sensitive / responsive
impatient / compelling; passionate
impudent / unafraid
incorrigible / strong-willed
inflexible / traditional
intense / focused; dedicated
insecure / cautious
loud / expressive
manipulative / charismatic
moody / sensitive
non-participatory / an observer
obsessive / deliberate
picky / selective
possessive / keenly intent on objects
pushy / assertive
quiet / absorbent; a thinker
restless / zealous
self-centered / proud
serious / contemplative
shy / reflective
silly / fanciful; joyful
spoiled / well-loved
stubborn / tenacious; persistent
a terror / energetic
troublesome / challenging
unfocused / curious
unpredictable / flexible; creative
whiny / willing to communicate
wild / vigorous
withdrawn / introspective