Learning lessons from a spill

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2018

By Nathan Rice

He’s reached the age where his body is growing faster than his brain. Clumsy has become the new normal. Puberty and growth spurts have left him unsure how long his arms are, and it seems that he can’t hold on to anything anymore.

An example of this happened a few weeks ago when we walked in the house with the remains of our fast food meal. He took a few steps into the living room before dropping a cup of soda onto the carpeted floor. The plastic lid popped off, and the entire cup of artificially flavored, carbonated sugar water poured into the carpet. His cousins who were walking beside him quickly yelled out, “He dropped something else!” We all set down what we were carrying on the kitchen table, and I headed for some rags and paper towels. “Come help me clean this up,” I said.

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It would have been easy to get upset or to scold him for dropping a full cup of soda on the carpet, but it would not have been the proper response. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was not misbehaving when he dropped the soda, nor had he broken any rule. It was simply an accident, and a common accident for a 13-year-old who can’t keep up with this own growth.

Too often adults yell at and even punish kids when they have an accident of some type. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between misbehavior and an accident. As adults, we should be able to look at the situation to see if there was any wrongdoing on the part of the child. If there is not, we would be incorrect to scold or punish. Instead, we should reassure them that accident happens and help them take the necessary steps to clean up or correct the accident.

I began explaining how we would clean up the spill. “Here,” I said. “I’ll put the towels down and you step on them with your shoes on to help sop up the soda.” He began following my instructions and I used this time to explain what was happening. “You’re not in trouble,” I assured him. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It was an accident, but you still have to clean it up.”

I guided him through the process of cleaning the carpet. We sopped up the mess, wiped it with some water, used carpet cleaner on the spot, let the cleaner soak for five minutes per the directions on the bottle and then sopped up the carpet cleaner. When we were done you couldn’t even tell there had been a spill. “Good job,” I said. “Now you know how to clean a spill on the carpet.”

I hope this 13-year-old learned that we all mistakes, and that is OK, but that it is our responsibility to clean up our own messes. I also hope he learned that I will always be willing to help him.

They, like all of us, are still learning. Mistakes will be made, and drinks will be dropped. Take a moment before getting upset to assess if there was any misbehavior or if it was just an accident. We should be helping children learn how to deal with accidents instead of chastising them for innocent mistakes.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.