Our kids love spending time with their grandparents. I remember thinking that a weekend with my grandparents was just about the best thing ever when I was a child. Kayla has childhood memories of spending time every summer with her grandparents. It’s a rare child who doesn’t love their grandparents. Kayla’s parents and my parents both live close to us so we can easily accommodate our kid’s frequent requests to spend time with them.
Our two oldest daughters spent the weekend with my in-laws last summer. While they were there my mother-in-law took them to the pool. When they returned to my in-laws’ house there was a water moccasin waiting for them on the sidewalk between the driveway and the front door. For those of you not familiar with the water moccasin, it’s a very poisonous snake.
So, my mother-in-law sees the snake and calls her husband, who promptly comes out of the house with a BB gun and kills the snake. Everyone enters the house safe and sound. Problem solved.
It’s not that someone living in Texas found a snake outside their front door, or that my father-in-law killed it that is the interesting part of the story. No, the interesting part of the story is that he used a BB gun to kill a very dangerous snake. He didn’t use a shotgun, he didn’t get a rifle, he didn’t even grab a handgun (all of which he owns multiples of) instead, he used an air-powered “toy” just like the one that my kids use to shoot at targets in the backyard. He knew exactly what tool the moment needed and he used it. He used the correct tool for the job. Anything else would have been excessive and irresponsible. This happened in a residential neighborhood after all.
His response to the issue was measured and appropriate, it was not excessive.
It reminds me of something Dr. Purvis liked to say; “Don’t shoot a gnat with an elephant gun.” Perhaps we can add this to our list of favorite quotes too, “You only need a BB gun to kill a snake, even if it is poisonous.”
The water moccasin story made me think about how we respond to our kids. I am trying to be the kind of dad who uses BB gun approach to respond to a behavior snake when he sees a snake, but sadly I too frequently get the elephant gun when I see a behavior gnat.
The next few sentences will sound defensive, but they are not intended to be, they are only intended to lend a little context. I come from a long line of people who reach for the elephant gun first. I don’t recall seeing any BB guns in the house I grew up in, but I do remember a lot of elephant guns. As a result, I’m wired to think that a big response is usually the best response. Even though I have learned that there is a better way, there are times that I forget what I have learned and go with what I know.
There is good news for me and everyone who identifies with me, and it is simply this; we can change. We can all change. We just have to be intentional in our parenting. We have to pay attention to the things we’re doing that don’t cultivate greater connection and stop doing them. It sounds simple enough, but it’s not easy. It requires us to be intentional, to do the hard work necessary for us to be the parents that our kids need us to be. We have to train ourselves to respond in appropriate ways. We have to train ourselves to respond to the underlying needs that are at the root of the unwanted behavior.
So why should we use a BB gun instead of an elephant gun?
It builds trust
When we respond at a level that is appropriate for the behavior we are seeing, it makes the interaction about the behavior and not the child. One of the most damaging things we can do to our kids is to react in ways that make them feel like bad behavior = bad kid. When we overreact (reach for that elephant gun) we run the risk of doing just that. I know because I have made that mistake many times.
When we make addressing unwanted behaviors moments of connection and correction, instead of overreaction and punishment, we teach our children that they can trust us because we want what’s best for them even when they are misbehaving.
It teaches a valuable lesson
This is a great lesson for us to model for our kids and an important truth for us to embrace; change is possible. Learning this is something that will serve them well the rest of their lives. So many of us get stuck where we are because we believe that we can’t change. But the truth is that we can change. That is one of the messages of the gospel, change is real, change is necessary, change is possible. Along with change comes hope and we could all use a little hope most days.
So, be sure to grab a BB gun the next time you encounter a behavior snake. And let the healing begin.