Last year, the teacher at my son’s school implemented a color-coded behavior chart. If you’re a parent then you are probably familiar with this kind of positive behavior reinforcement. The three-color system makes sense to an adult especially if it mimics a traffic light. “Green” means go, or good, “yellow” is cautious, or warning and “red” is most definitely stop. I wish my son’s teacher’s system was this simple but alas it’s a six-color coded system.
As I think about this system, it’s effortless to get to Red. It seems nearly impossible to get to Purple. Of course on day 1, everyone starts on a level playing field. Everybody is green. You only have 2 steps to get to Purple and 3 steps to get to Red. There was a time that it seemed every day was a Yellow, Orange, and even a Red day. I would arrive at the school to pick him up and he would walk towards me with his head low. The teacher was right behind him. While speaking with her about his behavior, I would be looking at the folder to see yellow, orange, orange, yellow, yellow, red, yellow, orange. It seemed hopeless. My son was becoming the repeat offender. The type of individual that when caught misbehaving it was much easier to punish than a person that wasn’t an offender. If you watch football or hockey, you know them as the dirty players that when they make even a questionable hit you as the fan want them banned for life.
My wife and I came to a point where we didn’t know what to do. We wanted our son to do well, but he was starting to be a problem to his teacher and by association his class because of the distractions he was creating. After reading a few different articles and praying over the situation, it dawned on me to no longer care about the results of his day and instead to love him and lay out our expectations for him.
I would tell him and demonstrate to him each day my love for him whether the results of his work would be Purple, Green, Orange, or Red. I also laid out three simple rules that he was to follow:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… (Colossians 3:23 ESV)
I was never a straight-A student and my parents never got on my back for being a straight-A student. We can put a lot of stress on people to be perfect, and often we fail. But if our work can be good, and our attitude is to be excellent at it to work for the Lord, then our results will be different. Mike Rowe once said, “never follow your passion, but always bring it with you.”
Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19 ESV)
My son is exactly like me. Once I dig into whatever work I’m doing I have a one-track mind. There is no multi-tasking. If I’m not looking at you I’m not listening to you. It’s a gift and a curse. My son can be knee-deep in LEGOs, spelling, or playing with cars and it takes the Jaws of Life of the mind to break him out of his trance.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 ESV)
My son is friendly. My wife shared a story with me about an older kid that had the same pair of shoes that he did. My mother blessed the kids with new shoes for the school year and so he picked out the new Jordan Retro 4s in gray. I tried sliding in a pair for me and she said no way. But my son was ecstatic when he saw the older kid and said “Mommy! That kid has the same shoes as me! I want to go up and show him!” My wife looked at him like he was crazy. The kid was probably in 3rd or 4th grade and didn’t want my son to possibly experience the pain of being called a loser as older kids tend to not want to be around little kids. Against her judgment though, she let him go. He ran. She watched the interaction. He turned and ran back to her with this substantial grin on his face. The older kid called him cool.
I laid out these 3 rules; work hard, listen the first time, and be a good friend so that he can focus on the freedom found in boundaries. Often, when we’re told this is the reward and you can’t do X, Y, Z, we get stuck on what we can’t do. But if we can find freedom in what we can do it often leads to more prosperity. If you read through the book of Proverbs it often says “Blessed is the person that does X…” often followed by “a fool does Y.” The blessed life comes from the freedoms and the permissions of what we can do.
And while though my son never hit purple, the teacher had tremendous blessings on his name for the turn around that he achieved. But it all started with one thing. I expressly, and intentionally, poured out my love to him.