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WHEN TOILET PAPER BECOMES A TEACHABLE MOMENT.

June 23, 2013

By Wendy Mather with Scott Feraco

“T-P-ing?” I asked with a quizzical look.

“You know mom, Toilet Papering someone’s house.”, she said in a voice that conveyed her impatience with me.

This was the last thing I thought I would hear when I asked my 12-year-old daughter the simple question, “What did you do last night?”

Turns out she participated in a ‘T-P-ing’ adventure during a sleepover at her friend’s home!

As I look back, I am pleased she practiced the virtue of Honesty—being truthful, sincere, open, and genuine—and confided in me. I wanted to hug her and giggle, but as a responsible parent, I kept my amusement to myself. In my best voice of authority I said, “Covering someone else’s house in toilet paper is a violation of property and illegal. You can be charged for malicious mischief, a misdemeanor crime.”

My sweet, beautiful, wonderful, little girl who is growing up much too fast, was shocked to find out she may be in serious trouble. “It was meant as a compliment, mom. We were just having fun!” she stammered.

As I feigned a stern look of disapproval I recalled my 20th birthday during my university years when my friends took the time to move my furniture into the elevator and redesign my dorm room with a very stylish “papier de toilette” look. I was honored to have been the recipient of such attention!

Turns out my perception of T-P-ing someone’s house was shared by the mother of my daughter’s friend and “partner in crime”. When I called her to discuss the situation, she was surprised to hear what the girls had done, but like myself, she views toilet papering someone’s home as a complement of attention and popularity.

I soon discovered the mother of the T-P-ing recipient did not share our perception. She was NOT amused. By the tone of her voice on the other end of the phone, she was fuming with anger. Turns out her daughter had been habitually bullied since kindergarten and she viewed this ‘attention-giving act’ as yet another affront.

An urgent meeting was arranged. She demanded to meet with my daughter, along with her friend and her mother and me.

We all marched over to the ‘victims’ home… still covered in toilet paper! Words like ‘violation of property’, ‘feelings of being bullied again’, ‘anger’, ‘hurt’, ‘inconvenience’, hung heavily in the air as we recognized the extent of the impact our children’s actions. It was heartbreaking to witness the pain our neighbors felt as a result of a seemingly innocent prank.

All people don’t share the same definition of ‘fun’. Many 'jokes' and 'antics' are not always positively received.

Not all people share the same definition of ‘fun’, but many kids, and even their parents, believe tossing toilet paper onto homes is a traditional way of wishing “good luck”.
Photo credit: John Clarke Russ | BDN

My daughter and her friend were quite nervous but managed to verbally acknowledge their regret for what they had done and offered a sincere apology. Of course, they immediately began clearing the toilet paper from the house, a step in the right direction toward restitution.

That evening my daughter and I discussed the virtue of Justice. Part of Justice is making amends when we have hurt or wronged others. So, in addition to her ‘consequences’—no TV, computer or friends for a week—we discussed how she could mend the hurt she caused, deciding that a sincere letter of apology was necessary.

I insisted the letter be carefully crafted and detailed. It must express her sorrow for having caused so much pain, no matter how innocent her intentions may have been. It must show CompassionDeep empathy for the suffering of others. The letter must acknowledge the lesson learned—that all people don’t share the same definition of ‘fun’, that ‘jokes’ and ‘antics’ are not always positively received. Finally, she had to ask for Forgiveness—she must ask them to overlook her mistake and being willing to move forward with a clean slate. When she finished the letter I gave her a hug, and encouraged her to forgive herself as well.

The act of delivering the letter became another teachable moment. She was afraid to come face-to-face with the girl she had hurt. I told her she needed to practice Courageshe needed to transform her fear into determination and do what must be done even when it is difficult.

Her apology was accepted.

Not only did they forgive my daughter and her friend, they were so grateful we took the issue seriously they came by our home the next day with a thank you card acknowledging our thoughtfulness and sincerity.

My daughter has grown a lot from the experience. She said, “It’s a good thing I got this out of my system now instead of when I am 15, when it could have been something more serious. Now I know what ‘being bad’ feels like and I don’t like it.”

Like most parents, I hope and pray that ‘being bad’ really is out of my daughter’s system. But realistically I know there will be many more ‘adventures’ to come; confusing and difficult choices, success and failure, love and heartbreak are just a few of the myriad of emotions we endure during our lifetime. I experienced them all—I still am!

I am so grateful for The Five Strategies of the Virtues ProjectTM. Thanks to these proven strategies to help raise children of character, I was able to keep my cool with my daughter and not lapse into shaming and blaming her for causing so much trouble.

Here are The Five Strategies from The Virtues Project Educator’s Guide:

1. Speak the Language of the Virtues

Language has a great influence to empower or discourage. Self-esteem is built when shaming or blaming language is replaced by naming the Virtues, our innate qualities of character. Virtues are used to acknowledge, guide, and correct. The Language of Virtues helps us remember what kind of people we want to be.

Speaking the language of virtues helped my daughter and myself empathetically communicate with our neighbor and heal the relationship. First we acknowledged their feelings without judgment by saying, “We see you are very angry.” And we expressed compassion, “We are sorry for causing you so much pain.”  Then we recognized their innate qualities of character, “Thank you for your patience and forgiveness.”

2. Recognize Teachable Moments

This strategy is a way of viewing life as an opportunity for learning, recognizing our mistakes, our tests and challenges as opportunities to hone our virtues. It is an approach to bringing out the best in each other by asking, “What can I learn from this situation?” “What do I need to do differently next time?” and “How can I make it right?”

The entire T-P-ing drama was a learning experience for all involved. Think hard before you have ‘fun’ at someone else’s expense. My daughter learned to think of other ways to keep boredom at bay by creating a list of activities and things to do when she is restless and wants to have some “fun”.

3. Set Clear Boundaries

Clear boundaries, connected to a Shared Vision of the virtues with which we want to treat one another, help to prevent violence and create a safe learning environment. Clear ground rules based on virtues build an atmosphere of order and unity. This strategy offers a positive approach to discipline, emphasizing both assertiveness and restorative justice. It helps us to identify what bottom line behaviors will not be tolerated as well as how amends con be make.

As a parent, I could have been more proactive on setting clear boundaries before my daughter went to the sleepover. For example I could have said to her, “If you go out anywhere, text me first.  No roaming the street after dark. Text me if you are uncomfortable and I can come and get you.” My inability to pre-determine boundaries with my daughter was my biggest teachable moment as a parent. I just never anticipated this! My new motto: “Expect the unexpected”!

From my daughter’s perspective, she violated the boundaries of privacy by trespassing on our neighbor’s lawn in the dark and toilet papering their home. As a result of this violation, she appreciates the justice around respecting other peoples’ property. She also received a very important message from me when we implemented the consequences of her behavior; that I deeply love her unconditionally and care about helping her to develop her moral compass.

4. Honoring the Spirit

Spirit grows through simple practices that illumine our sense of values. A few moments of silence each morning can bring a sense of peace to the day. Sharing which virtues are personally important allows us to reflect on what matters to us. Participation in the arts honors meaning and creativity. Celebrations make special events meaningful. This strategy helps us to address the spiritual dimension in a way that respects our diversity.

Honoring the Spirit evolved as my daughter created the letters of apology and reflected on her actions.  She then humbly presented the apologies in person with sincerity and tact. The act of restoring justice is in itself honoring of spirit.

5. Offer Companioning

This is an art and skill which supports healing, encourages moral choices, and allows the safe expression of feelings. It helps in counseling, conflict resolution, and disciplinary situations. Companioning helps us get to the heart of the matter when individuals are in grief or crisis. It involves true presence and listening, asking and clarifying questions, which allow individuals to empty their cup, and then to solve their own problems with the help of virtues.

I am grateful for this strategy as it provides the best template for deep listening that I have ever come across. Through Companioning my daughter, I was able to learn more about her intention and motivation behind the prank. I was able to uncover her secret desire to check out what it would be like to be ‘bad’ because ‘bad kids’ according to her “always have each others’ backs and I want a friend like that”.  Again, this is another call for me as a parent to engage her and her friends in some of the great activities they listed. It’s also a call for me to do even more for my daughter and ask the hard questions which take time, energy and patience. The Companioning process helps both of us to connect heart to heart. It’s my favorite way to genuinely acknowledge my daughter for the many virtues I see in her as she shares her stories with me.

Who would have ever thought that a roll of toilet paper would be a Teachable Moment?

Wishing you and your children “Victory via Virtues!”

Special thanks to The Virtues Project Educator’s Guide, by Linda Kavelin Popov.

©2013 WENDY MATHER AND SCOTT FERACO. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THE “V” CHANNEL LOGO AND “VICTORY VIA VIRTUES” ARE SERVICE MARKS OF THE “V” CHANNEL, INC.

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