In a powerful Facebook post that has gone viral, Amy Beth Gardner explains how in addition to the BTS rituals of helping her daughter Breonna—who is about to start middle school—decorate her locker and get new school supplies, she also sat the young girl down for a toothpaste challenge. Gardner says she handed Breonna a tube of toothpaste and "asked her to squirt it out onto a plate. When she finished, I calmly asked her to put all the toothpaste back in the tube."
Of course, Breonna began protesting that she couldn't, and said, "It won't be like it was before!" Then Gardner lowered the boom with these words:
"You will remember this plate of toothpaste for the rest of your life. Your words have the power of life or death. As you go into middle school, you are about to see just how much weight your words carry. You are going to have the opportunity to use your words to hurt, demean, slander and wound others. You are also going to have the opportunity to use your words to heal, encourage, inspire and love others. You will occasionally make the wrong choice; I can think of three times this week I have used my own words carelessly and caused harm. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can't take them back. Use your words carefully, Breonna. When others are misusing their words, guard your words. Make the choice every morning that life-giving words will come out of your mouth. Decide tonight that you are going to be a life-giver in middle school. Be known for your gentleness and compassion. Use your life to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness."
Please hold while I run to the bathroom to get a tube of toothpaste so I can replicate this experiment with my three daughters! Because seriously, this is an ingenious way to show kids that once they say something, they can't un-say it. It's out there. And as Gardner understands, words have so much power. They have the power to uplift, and they have the power to destroy.
In the case of Danny Fitzgerald, the 13-year-old who killed himself over bullying, words simply broke him. But it didn't have to be like that. If only more parents would take the time to talk to their kids about how much what they say and do can impact others. Then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't have to desperately worry about and anguish over sending our children to school over fears of what could happen.
Will you try this toothpaste experiment with your kids?
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.