Winters can be harsh in Hayward, WI. A combination of lots of snow and below zero temperatures can begin to wear on people. That’s why Spring is so welcome to us. We love the change of seasons because they are so dramatic.

Well, one Spring, as the temperature was climbing and the sun was shining, 4 elementary-aged boys took it upon themselves to walk over the church for Followers (Hayward Wesleyan’s after school program) instead of ride the bus. Unless parental permission is given, student must ride the bus to Followers. They cannot walk.

One student later told me he had asked for his Dad’s permission and got it under the condition that he go with a few other guys. So that’s exactly what this young man did. He got three of his friends to walk over with him.

The problem was the Dad didn’t think to let either the school or anyone at the church knows he was letting his son walk, and surely the other boys’ parents weren’t informed, neither was the school or the church.

We have a list of the students we’re supposed to pick up. When students don’t show up where they are supposed to, the officials find out where they are. So when these 4 boys didn’t show up on the bus, both the school and I (the church) were trying to find out where they went. Luckily this walking trip to the church wasn’t a secret and other students had heard about what they were doing, so we were told they had walked over.

So when these 4 guys arrived at the church I pulled them aside and placed them in the Fireside room (a room off to the side of our gym).

They were all saying things like: “Are we in trouble?”

I didn’t answer them. Now I knew these 4 boys. I knew they hadn’t intended to be malicious nor had planned a great evil. However, I need to help them understand the gravity of the situation instead of just yelling at them for making such a stupid decision.

By the way, most people fly off the handle in those situations, and as a parent myself, I understand why. Adults lose it and yell because they have active imaginations. They imagine what could have happened to their child and they want their kid to understand those imaginations. Now, the kid is thinking: “Chill out. I’m fine. We survived. Why is Mom thinking we got kidnapped?” In these situations when a kid is calm and the adult is freaking out inside, the only way an emotional adult (male or female) can communicate their frustration is the yell and lecture on what could have happened.

There is a better way, however. This better way requires a bit of self-control, though.

Here’s how I handled this potentially volatile situation without minimizing the boys’ reckless decision, but helped them understand the dangerousness of it:

I started by asking them how the walk went. They said they loved it! Because the weather was so nice they figured a walk would be good.

I then asked why we might be a little frustrated with a walk that went so great. They didn’t know.

I then schooled them on how a business transaction worked. “It’s called the two-party transfer,” I said. “You guys violated the two-party transfer agreement.”

They looked confused. I had them. They were interested in what this two-party transfer thing was. Their defenses were down because I was talking with them about something other than their “mistake.” For the moment I was talking to them about something that didn’t directly relate to them. The technique is akin to solving a problem together. Instead of me yelling or lecturing what their problem is, I invite them to discover it with me. Today, the container for discovery was the “two-party transfer.”

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and explained the concept:

“If I, one-party, hand over my phone to one of you, another-party, that is called the two-party transfer. I’m transferring something from one person to the next. When someone buys a house, it is a two-party transfer.”

They were genuinely intrigued! They just got schooled on the essence of a business transaction. But I could see on their faces these couple of things:

  • Maybe we’re not in trouble?
  • What’s he talking about?
  • What does this “two-party” thing have to do with us walking over to the church?

“You four guys,” I continued, “violated the two-party transfer. You’re supposed to go from the school’s hands (one-party) into the church’s hands (the other party). Just like my phone. It would be like me handing my phone to one of you, but then it drops and crashed to the floor.” I feigned dropping my phone. “The other party didn’t take possession of the phone causing it to crash.”

Here it comes…

“You guys crashed to the floor.”

Boom. They got it. I could see the realization on all their faces. They exhaled. Their eyes got shifty. They were looking at each other. They felt guilty… ashamed… they had done something wrong. And all the while I’m giving them enough time to feel the weight of their choice. The realization of a poor choice is often a great teacher.

I squeezed it in a little more: “Do you guys understand what you did?”

They all nodded rapidly and quickly apologized. I told them that I forgave them and then talked about how cool it was to walk over.

I said: “As long as you let one of the parties know what you’re doing (with your parent’s permission) I have no problem with you walking over.”

The boy who had got his Dad’s permission was still a little confused and said: “But my Dad said I could.”

I looked at him with an incredulous, offended look on my face and said: “Is he one of the parties? Is he one of the two-party handoff? What your Dad failed to do was let one of the two-parties know (either the church or the school). A step was missed.” In other words, this boy’s father had given him permission but didn’t let the church or the school know that he had allowed such an action.

Then this boy understood. The conversation lasted less than 5-minutes. It doesn’t take long to get through to kids. It just takes a knowledge of what you think their motivation was (good, ignorant, or evil) and working through the issue with them instead of for them.

I later talked to one of the boys’ parents. As soon as Followers was done and he got into his Mom’s care, he told her that he had done something really bad. I didn’t make nor suggest that the boys confess to their parents (it just wasn’t a part of my talk with them… I did follow up with each parent). He did that one all on his own because he felt so convicted and understood the gravity of what they had done.

My goal is to get them to see and understand that with as much grace as possible.

I often think when I’m disciplining kids about how I would like an adult to correct me. Someone who is already remorseful doesn’t need to be yelled at. You’re wasting the yelling. Save that for something that is really evil that they do. I would much rather have someone who wants to kindly and gracefully, with conviction, help me understand.