My friends Laura and Mamitte (not their real names) were having coffee at Mamitte’s apartment while their 7-year-old boys and a neighbor boy played in the courtyard. Mamitte walked out to check on them and discovered that they had smashed a bunch of snails. She said to them, “Oh, I am so saddened by this,” and returned to the apartment to figure out, along with Laura, what to do about it.
What’s really important, they decided, is the greater lesson of how we treat creatures.
When both women went outside, the boys began to play “he said/she said” about who actually smashed and who watched. But Mamitte asked them if they were willing to gather the snails’ bodies and put them to rest in God’s earth. The boys said they were willing to participate.
They gathered the snails’ bodies.
As they did, they had time to process and look at what they had actually done. They then put the snails in the specified resting place.
Mamitte asked them if they wanted to say something.
- Ethan said, “We ask God to forgive us for how we treated the snails.”
- Raul said, “And forgive me for not protecting them.”
- Logan sang a little song and said, “And that God would give them a home and love them in heaven.”
Then they all said Amen.
The moms decided to take it one step further.
Because the snails had been smashed all over a long bench in this courtyard where everyone sits, Mamitte got out rags and a cleaning solution to disinfect the bench and brought those out to the boys.
As they sat on the ground, scrubbing different parts of the bench, they bounced ideas back and forth to each other. It was all Mamitte and Laura could do to keep their mouths shut (a very important parenting skill).
The boys figure it all out on their own.
- One says, “Gosh, I don’t want to be doing all this WORK right now. This is so much WORK and we could be playing.”
- Another says, “Well, that’s what happens when we make bad choices.”
- And as they’re going back and forth, the third boy says, “I. will. never. do. this. again.”
Those are the huge connections that we want–
- They are experiencing the consequences of their actions.
- The heart issue, the core of it, is that we shouldn’t treat other beings like that.
The two moms celebrated silently, standing behind the boys so they couldn’t see.
When they returned to their coffee cups in the apartment, they asked each other, “How did we do that—It worked so effectively?!”
Here’s what they came up with:
- Our parenting was not reactive. Laura said, “My first instinct had been to take my son, rip him out of the courtyard, put him in the car and say, ‘Well, if you’re going to act that way over here, we can’t be over here.'”
- We asked if they would be willing. Mamitte said to Laura, “When you approached them and stopped the bickering, you asked if they would be willing to gather the snails’ bodies. I was shocked, thinking, “I can’t believe she’s asking them because they aren’t going to do it.” And they all chose it! It wasn’t anything forced.
- We found a teachable moment. Natural consequences are often the teachable moments. We guided them, we didn’t punish. We invited them to take responsibility to care for the snails’ bodies.
Tweetable: See how three boys increase in respect for all creatures at a memorial service for snails. Click to Tweet