A mom in Tennessee gave her 11-year-old daughter a lesson in kindness that she will probably remember for the rest of her life.
The image of a plate of spilled toothpaste became a powerful, viral metaphor for parents of new middle school students this week, as one mom explained how she used the simple household item as a visual lesson to teach her daughter about the power of her words once they are out in the world.
Amy Beth Gardner, a Cleveland, Tennessee, mom did not overlook this part of the back-to-school process, sharing her ingenious lesson to her middle school daughter in a Facebook post that is quickly going viral.
She asked her daughter, Breonna, 11, to squeeze toothpaste onto a plate, then asked her to put the paste back into the tube. When her daughter protested, Gardner told her to remember the plate of toothpaste for the rest of her life.
“Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back,” she said.
“I gave her a tube of toothpaste and asked her to squirt it out onto a plate,” she wrote. “When she finished, I calmly asked her to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. She began exclaiming things like ‘But I can’t!’ and ‘It won’t be like it was before!’”
At this point in the Facebook post, Amy’s daughter wasn’t the only person who was confused. I wondered to myself: where could she possibly be going with this? But Amy continued:
“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.”
At that moment, it all clicked. This brilliant woman just explained the importance of kindness to a tween with only a tube of toothpaste and a plate.
Once words come out of our mouths, whether they are kind or cruel, we cannot take them back.
“Use your words carefully, Breonna,” she concluded. “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.”
To make the story even more beautiful, Amy Beth fostered several children before adopting her daughters, who she clearly loves enough to move mountains.