I mentioned the PLACE method in a previous post and I wanted to share a real life story about the power it can have. This is a heart wrending story so if you are a cryer, you may want a box of tissues at hand! =) Real names are not used to protect identity.
Micheal was a foster parent. He took in mostly children from abusive backgrounds who had issues with incontinence, obesity, etc. He related this story about one child of nine years he had in his care who we will call Shawn. One day while he was going through the house collecting laundry from the bed rooms for his trip to the laundromat he walked into Shawns bedroom and was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of urine. Michael felt a little frustrated, it was not the first time he had come into Shawns room to find this smell.
Micheal continued to collect laundry and put his mind to the task of figuring out what exactly was going on that Shawn would feel the need to do this. Was he hiding his underwear that he had an accident in because he was afraid he would get into trouble for the accident? Micheal did not believe this was the case since they had talked about it before and Micheal had assured Shawn that he would not be in trouble but they did need to work on resolving his issues with having accidents. Michael realized what he had to do and resolved to do it that evening.
When Shawn arrived home from school, Micheal stopped him before he walked upstairs. He stood by the counter and had on a sad countenance. ” Shawn, I would like to talk to you for a minute please.”
Shawns eyes traveled to the laundry bags and he he stiffened. Micheal could see he was obviously scared. Shawn had lived with him for almost half a year at this point and he wondered when that haunted look would ever leave this childs eyes. Micheal turned so he was more facing Shawn and quietly said in a voice that he hoped was soothing,” Shawn. I want you to know you are not in trouble. I just need some help.”
Shawn was surprised and taken a little off guard by this,” Help? With what?”
” I just need to be able to understand it. Can you please help me to understand why? Please, I have to know!”
Shawns lip trembled. This was a child who in the time he had been with Micheal had showed little emotion except for the occasional fear that crossed his countenance when he couldn’t stop it. Shawn sat at the bottom of the stairs he had been standing near and his story spilled from his lips. Micheal had heard most of it already from the case workers but this was Shawns moment. His turn to relate his experience as only he could.
” When I lived with my Mom, I had problems making it to the bathroom. I would be afraid and want to hide it but she would know. She would always know and she would make me..” he cleared his throat as tears streamed down his face. ” She would take me out in front of the house and make me sit on the little chair there. She would put my wet underwear on my head. I would sit there smelling the smell and hear her calling to people walking by to look at her son. Her little sissy pissy pants! I still have problems making it sometimes. I get this knot in my stomach and I don’t know what to do. So I smell the underwear and it makes the knot go away.”
Micheal went to the know sobbing Shawn with tears in his own eyes hoping he could make it through the next part without them spilling. This was such a critical moment for the two of them but especially for Shawn. In his hand he had a bag. Just a plain plastic shopping bag which he held out to Shawn. ” I want you to take this. I want you to gather up the underwear you have in your room and put it in here.” Shawn looked like he might protest but Micheal continued,” I want you to to put it in a safe place in your room.”
Confused,” Wait! I can keep them?”
Micheal nodded. ” The only request I make of you is when you feel the need to take out the bag, please come get me. I want to be there with you. Noone should ever have to feel that way especially alone. You don’t have to talk to me or anything. I just want to sit with you so you know you aren’t alone and if you want, I will hold your hand!”
Shawn did as he was asked. Over the course of the next few months Shawn had fewer and fewer accidents and he started being able to express other emotions. Just through that act of empathy and understanding he recevied he moved down the road to recovery.
There is great power in empathy, compassion and understanding. I hope you came away from this story with the magic of a little hope in your hearts.