Studio shot of child holding a Sorry sign made of white paper with handwriting.

The Forrest Story: Why a tough consequence can be the best thing for a child.

Last week, you hit a child with a block at preschool, sweetheart.  And then you refused to apologize.  When I went to pick you up and your teachers told me what had happened, I was mortified.  I asked you again to apologize, and you refused.  On the way home, your big brother shared that the reason you hit her with a block was because she said you were her best friend.  And then, my heart broke a little, but I knew exactly what needed to happen.

You see, many years ago, I did something very similar The story goes like this:

It was fourth grade, and I was walking through the mall with my parents at Christmas time, one of the first nights of the break from school and was approached by a young boy named Forrest, who was disliked by everyone in our grade.  To this day, I still have no idea why he wasn’t likable, I just knew he was an outcast.  So when he said “Hi Jill”, instead of responding, my face turned flush and I looked away and tried not to make eye contact.  I was so embarrassed.  Your Yaya and Papou instantly started questioning why I had been so rude to that boy.  I didn’t have an answer.  Certainly not a good one.

That night, they came up with a consequence that stuck with me for life…  For the remainder of the school year, I had to say one nice thing to Forrest or about Forrest every single day.  Every. Single. Day.  I had about two and a half weeks to figure out the math of how much interaction I had to do with Forrest.  Two and a half weeks to devise ways to not actually have to speak to him or about him. That time might have been the hardest part of the whole punishment.  When January finally came, the first day was scary.  I thought about what to say, when to say it, etc all day long.  I made up a story to tell my parents about what I had said when I got home.  But my conscious got to me, and I confessed to them that I had not done it.  So the next day I had to do two.  I wasn’t getting out of this one.  The next day, I managed to get one nice thing out about him.  It was better than none, so they let me off a little easy, but they kept pushing me.  So the next day I said hello.  And every day for the entire semester.   Probably about 100 nice things I had to say.  At one point, I think I even apologized for not saying hello in the mall that evening.

It was by far the best punishment of my entire life.  The following year, I befriended a girl named Claire who had a learning disability, and was an outcast in our class.  My older sister also reaped the benefits of my tough life lesson too.  She made friends with the unlovable.  She still makes friends with the unlovable.  We both look at people with a whole new lens because of the spring of 4th grade.  We look for ways to reach out, to find the good in others.  Especially those we don’t think are “worthy”.  And the most amazing thing is that we ALWAYS find something good.

Honey, with tears in my eyes today, over 25 years later, I know there is a blessing in obedience.  There is a blessing in focusing on the good in someone else.  And there is a blessing in taking responsibility for your actions.  And that is my purpose: to train you to find the good in others, to take responsibility for your actions.

So yesterday, I asked you again to apologize to the sweet little girl who likes you so much.  When you wouldn’t do it, I took you back home and sent you to bed.  You did not get to enjoy your class time.  Your father and I talked to you about apologizing, and told you that you would not get to participate in class again until you did.  Because there are far more important lessons in life to learn than ABC’s and 123’s.  Because you will miss opportunities if you choose to be unkind.  Because you will suffer consequences later in life if you choose not to take responsibility for your actions.

I’m so proud of you, because when we went to go pick up your brother, you made the difficult, but powerful decision to say you were sorry to her.  And I’m so grateful to my parents for pushing me as a child so that when I came to this place as a parent, I wouldn’t sweep rudeness under the rug.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your life will be greatly blessed by your actions yesterday.  I hope this moment sticks with you the way mine stuck with me.


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