Teachers call them “teachable moments.” They’re those times when something happens and a teacher sees an opportunity for a child to learn something unplanned but pertinent. Actually, life is full of these “teachable moments,” and both parents and teachers can take advantage of them if we’re forward thinking. Usually we use these moments reactively – something has occurred and we’re reacting as best we can to the event – but the best “teachable moments” are the ones in which we’re proactive, that is nothing troubling is happening but we’re thinking ahead to ways of preventing trouble, or at least to ways of better preparing our children for events that are likely to happen or events we want to help our children avoid. An example of this is stealing. We don’t want our children to steal and yet all children do take things that don’t belong to them and then usually have trouble being honest about what they did. We can wait until they do steal something to take the “teachable moment” or we can find a moment of our own choosing when nothing is happening to teach about stealing.That moment can be as simple as telling a story about something that happened to you as a child, a time when your cousin wanted your favorite doll and took her home without asking you. You can tell your child all about it and in doing so tell your child how you felt when you discovered your doll gone and then how you felt when you found out it was your cousin, your special cousin, the one you really liked, who took your doll. Your feelings of hurt and disappointment as well as betrayal can be described so that your child can experience by proxy your feelings without having had the event happen to her.
The clear advantage of working this way with your child, proactively instead of reactively, is that since nothing happened, you as the parent won’t be confused about what disciplinary action to take against your child. This is so important because when your child steals you will find yourself thinking of ways to make your child “pay” for this deed, ways to make your child feel bad so that she will NEVER do this again.You will think, wrongly so, that by making your child feel remorseful the lesson of honesty will be acquired and integrated into your child’s personality. You will find yourself returning to the idea that discipline equals punishment and that unless you punish your child sufficiently, he will become a thief and you will be a bad parent. All of this thinking is just plain wrong on your part. As right as it seems, it is wrong. Children don’t learn not to do something wrong because we punish them. What they learn from punishment is how to do the dastardly deed more under cover, how to do it better so as not to get caught again, or how to do it and lie more effectively so that you believe they didn’t do it. Or they learn to live in fear and anxiety, not being sure they can control themselves when they have to. But they don’t learn the real lesson, the lesson that it is hurtful to others to steal things, that the other feels badly when someone steals from them, and that the reason not to steal also includes not having the right to hurt someone in that way, understanding how it feels to be hurt.
Our only hope for truly teaching our children to be kind to others and to respect himself and others is to find “teachable moments” for our children to learn compassion and empathy. When children operate from this place in themselves they make good decisions, even when parents and teachers aren’t close by them. Will they be perfect? Will they never fail and always be “good?” They will be just as “good” as we all are and they will be just as “fail-safe” as we all are. We couldn’t ask for more than that, and we shouldn’t expect more. Instead we’ll be there proactively making “teachable moments” for our children to gain insight into the feelings of others. And when they get it, we’ll rejoice. And when they miss the mark, we’ll try our best not to punish them, but to teach them from the goodness of our own heart.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher