Choosing which conversation to have

28154944 - driver making phone call after traffic accident

About a year ago, my younger son had his very first driving accident.  I say “first” because we live in Atlanta and here people joke that it’s not a matter of “if” you have an accident, it’s just a matter of “when.”  Accidents are almost inevitable with all this traffic.

My son had driven to visit a friend in Savannah over Labor Day weekend and I warned him about the holiday traffic on the road.  How it is stop and go.  How you have to pay even more attention at all times.  You can’t be distracted by music or heaven forbid, a glance at your phone.  Eyes on the road at all times, keep proper distance from other cars, and stay within the speed limit…that’s what I told him.

We got the call from him on Monday afternoon.  He had been involved in an accident on I-75 about 30 miles away from home. Traffic had stopped suddenly, he had rear-ended the car in front of him, his car was leaking fluid, he was okay and everyone in the other car was okay, but could we come get him?

On the drive to rescue him, my husband and I mulled over the various ways we could approach our conversation with him.  I admit there was a part of me that wanted to greet him with, “Didn’t I tell you there would be stop and go traffic during the holidays? This is the exact situation I explicitly warned you about. You weren’t really paying attention were you?”

But thankfully here’s the conversation we had…Dad opened his arms and gave him a big hug upon seeing him and asked “Are you okay buddy?” We looked at the smashed grill and the crumpled hood and said “Bummer.”  Then I said, “You know what?  We can replace the car, but we can’t replace you.  I’m so glad you’re okay.  There will be people who lose their lives today on the road; it happens every holiday.  And I’m so happy you’re okay.” (big smile and hug and I truly meant it from my grateful heart)
At breakfast the next morning he said to me, “Mom I think I’m one of those people who has to learn things through experiencing them.”

I said “Honey, that’s probably most of us.”

He continued, “I know you told me to pay attention and I was paying attention, I wasn’t goofing around, but I bet I can guarantee that that won’t happen again.”

“Oh yeah? What would you do differently?”

“I would get in the slow lane and stay there.”

“And maybe leave more space?”

“Well I had plenty of space until she slammed on her brakes!”

“And if you had had even more space maybe you could have stopped in time too, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well that sounds like a good plan when there’s lots of traffic like that…just chill in the slow lane.”

He shared openly how he could avoid the same situation in the future and how he planned to pay for the repairs and the ticket.  I didn’t have to say “I told you so” or “I’m disappointed in you.”

He learned the lesson from the inside out and that’s the best way.  Life is a very effective teacher.


Does your child have the freedom to make mistakes?  Do you ever say “I told you so?”
The next time your child makes a mistake, see if you can take a step back and let life be the teacher.  Better yet, come alongside him and support him as he deals with the natural consequences.  That way you’re his ally as you face life’s dilemmas together.
Oh, and do the same for yourself.  You’re allowed to make mistakes too! (in case no one ever told you).