A few nights ago I was working from home. I heard some yelling going on upstairs. Rapidly, I recognized the tone of the conversation as a discussion between Ale, my wife and one of my children. Minutes later, my older son Santi, came down to my office in tears. He doesn´t cry very often; so, I knew something was off. I left what I was doing, and very consciously, I started paying attention to what he was saying.
My son started talking without pausing; rushing his words and trying to explain what had happened. He said he had had a 'toilet accident', which triggered the discussion between my very patient wife and him. He was in distress, blaming himself, judging his action as something 'dumb'.
Until that moment, I hadn´t opened my mouth; I just held his hands and rubbed them while he was talking. I kept being very mindful of myself, as my tendency is always to jump in, and interrupt, as I am usually the one having discussions with the kids and my wife the one listening and holding their hands.
Once he stopped, I asked him to take a few deep breaths with me. We did it five or six times; while we were doing them, I noticed his body started relaxing.
"Daddy, I am dumb! I couldn´t control it! What is wrong with me? Why am I not normal? What are my friends going to think?" he said frustrated while cleaning his tears. My heart ached.
"Listen, you aren´t dumb. It was an accident" I said. And before he could reply I started telling him a story about myself, that up until that moment, I hadn´t shared with anyone – and I am about to make it public now.
I told him about a 'toilet accident' I had when I was around 6 years old, when I went for the first time to a summer camp. I made sure I gave him lots of details about what I was feeling and what I was thinking. He didn´t blink. "Wow" he said.
I said to my son, " what you said about not feeling normal because you had an accident - do not believe that thought. All kids have accidents; you just don´t know it because kids don´t tell their friends about them – just as I never did." He contemplated my words and didn´t talk for a little bit. Then he added, "so this is like that phrase that you once told me: don´t believe everything you think."
(This little guy is listening to what I tell him, I thought to myself) "Exactly! This is one of those times when you don´t have to believe every single thought. You are not dumb." He smiled with what I took to be a feeling of relief.
I then started joking with him, and we ended up having a good laugh. We talked about a few strategies he could use to prevent another accident.
I was proud of what had just happened
I was able to see my son and acknowledge his individuality. I didn´t want to change him or correct him and was able to look beyond behaviours or characteristics. I didn´t allow my opinion of him, my preconceived ideas to kick in, and used what I thought may work for him. I saw him for who he really is.
I tried putting myself in his shoes. I was empathic with him. I didn´t want to rationalize what he was going through in my adult mind and was able to connect with how he was feeling as a child. He felt it, he knew it.
I accepted him, and the situation; without altering or attempting to. I accepted that there wasn´t much that I could do with his frustration and pain, but to be there with him, accompanying him and supporting him.
A few nights later, I came back home late from seeing some patients in my office. My kids were already asleep. It was February 14th, and Ale showed me a letter he had made for both of us. It was a reassuring letter for me as a father. He thanked me for helping him to calm down during the 'accident' night. He notices far more than I thought. It was a night full of learning for both of us.
José is about to launch his first online course entitled: The Power of Mindful Parenting
José Briones is a registered psychologist and psychotherapist located in Montreal, Canada. He started his career in Mexico City working for health and educational institutions, and in private practice. He also has experience in the employee and family assistance program industry. José currently provides psychotherapy in private practice mostly with adults, and in a local college with adolescents and young adults.
José writes on a weekly basis in his blog: 'Just Shrink About It!' and enjoys being with his three kids and his wife as well as playing football and other sports. You can read more from José on his blog or get in touch with him via Facebook or Linked In