"While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about."
~ Angela Schwindt
Often, when a parent focuses on the routine, schedule, rules, and stress of the day, many opportunities to teach our kids or to encourage them are lost. We must be on the look out for teachable moments or opportunities to encourage our children.
The first step is to determine what the things are that we want to be teaching our kids. For instance, you may want to reinforce your religious beliefs, to emphasize treating all humans fairly, or to encourage art, music, and/or reading. If we are not careful, we can miss opportunities to encourage and nurture the things we want to reinforce to our children.
For example, my son was rolling marbles down the stairs and my husband walked by and saw marbles flying down the steps. He believed my son was throwing them down the steps at our other son, and he immediately sent him to time out and disciplined him. I could hear words between them escalating so I went to see what was going on. By this time my husband had gone downstairs. My son said he was not throwing marbles but instead had wanted to see what would happen when the marbles rolled down the steps. I immediately thought of the opportunity to teach about gravity and cause and effect. (No, I am not a science or math person). So I talked to my son about what had happened, had him talk to his dad and apologize for talking back, and we went to find a constructive way he could use marbles, gravity, and his curiosity to play and learn. Two postal tubes, 3 clear containers, and a bowl full of marbles later and my son was off to try out different experiments to make his marbles go down the stairs. It kept him occupied for over an hour.
Another time after putting our kids to bed, my oldest son, who was seven at the time, continued to come out of his room throughout the evening. I continued to tell him to go back to bed and go to sleep. My frustration was getting the best of me. It was getting late, and I had lots to still get done that evening. I snapped at my son when he came into my room the next time, and I told him not to come out of his room again. I had allowed myself to get upset. After I cooled down, I went into his room to tell him I was sorry for being upset with him, but that he did need to get to bed.
Within a matter of minutes he appeared in my room again, and he asked to snuggle with me. I wanted to yell at him to get in bed. I was frustrated with him. Fortunately, I realized his need to be with me was greater than my need to follow a routine or to be in total control. I told him he could come in my room for ten minutes. I compromised by allowing him to come in but also by limiting the time he could stay. As my son snuggled close to me, he shared what had happened at school that day. Someone had taunted him. If I had not let my defenses down and decided to change course, I may have missed hearing about his day and missed the opportunity to give him guidance and reassurance.
Sometimes teachable moments are hidden in challenging, frustrating, or ill-timed situations when we are not feeling very flexible. Try to be more aware of what is going on with your child. If your child takes a while to open up, try to be in tune with his/her communication style. Be aware when your child acts differently, and consider that he/she may need something important from you: love, affection, a private talk, etc.
Teachable moments are not only about the opportunities we use to teach a lesson, make an example out of a particular situation or show our child something. Often teachable moments are brought about by your child when he/she inquires about a topic, idea, or concern. My son asked me the other day if there were five states of matter. He said at school he had heard someone say that, but the science book only mentioned three states of matter. I immediately took this as an opportunity to help my son learn about this new topic that had peaked his interest. When we are so absorbed in our own activities, we can often lose such opportunities to teach our children. Remember to be present, be available, be open and flexible.
- What values do I want to instill in my child?
- Am I a good listener when my child speaks?
- Does my child think I am a good listener?
From Parenting Without a Paddle: Navigating the Waters of Parenthood by Kristin Fitch and Sharon Pierce McCullough.