One afternoon, I was watching Jimmy (“I hate polite children”, chapter 6) playing Legos with two other boys when I heard him say to his friend Ryan, “That’s a stupid way to build it. The wings are gonna fall off. Give me the ship, you’re stupid.”
Ryan looked hurt, put the half-built spaceship down and turned his back to Jimmy.
Jimmy was in the first grade now and had come a long way from where he’d started. But he was still very impulsive and often said the first thing that popped into his mind without thinking. He was trying his best to make friends but most of the children still didn’t like him very much. He and Ryan had become friends about two months earlier and had even had a few play dates together after school.
I winced when I heard him call Ryan stupid, not only because he clearly hurt Ryan’s feelings, but also because I was afraid he might lose one of his precious few friends. So I called Jimmy over and said to him, “Jimmy, let me ask you a question. Do you want to have more friends?”
Jimmy looked at me suspiciously and gave a tentative “Yes.”
“Okay, and are you happy about how many play dates you have or do you want to have more?”
“I want to have more.” Jimmy said.
“So right now, after what you just said to him, do you think Ryan wants to be your friend?”
“But Ryan was being stupid. If you put the wings on like that they’ll never stay. You need to ….”
I broke in and said, “Hold on, hold on. I didn’t ask you if Ryan was being stupid, maybe he was. I’m just asking you if you think he wants to be your friend when you call him stupid.”
“I don’t know. Probably not,” he said.
“Well I just wanted to ask you because I know you want to have more friends and play dates, so I couldn’t figure out why you called Ryan stupid.”
Then after a pause I said, “Do you want to go back and play?”
“Yeah.” Jimmy said.
“Go on then.”
Jimmy had always been resistant to anyone telling him that something he did was wrong or a bad idea. I’d learned that if I asked him questions, and didn’t force him to admit he was wrong, he was more likely to talk with me honestly and change his behavior.