The Flip Side of Teachable Moments
In my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I spend a lot of time encouraging parents to create teachable moments for your kids. Such moments are generally an “aha” moment for your child, you know, when they get it. It’s new information they acquire from you or from the circumstances, a life lesson, if you will.
There are three kinds of teachable moments. The most fun ones come when there is no problem. You are sharing a magic moment with your child and both of you are the better for it.
Jim and Jason are riding in the car and it begins to snow. Six year old Jason is fascinated by the snowflakes hitting the windshield. “Wow! There are like a million of them, Dad.”
Jim glances over to his transfixed son. “That’s right, son, and each is different from the others. Each is a unique creation from God.”
Jason cocks his head as he looks back at his dad. Dad continues, “That’s what snowflakes and humans have in common. Each is created individually. Each is unique. Each is from God.” Jason paused for just a moment, and then turned again to look at the snowflakes outside. A spontaneous teachable moment.
After getting back from the store, Jim gets Jason started on his homework. While getting supper ready, he hears Jason erupt, “Arrgh. This math is stupid,” and Jason swipes his book and math problem sheet off his desk.
Jim turns the heat down on the frying pan and finds Jason in his bedroom. “Homework kicking your butt?” He walks to his son’s side and puts a comforting arm around him.
“I can’t do it,” Jason screams, “and you can’t make me.” If his dad chooses power, he might be offended by Jason’s show of disrespect and lose a teachable moment. Instead, he chooses empathy and active listens Jason’s feelings.
“Wow! You’re really upset. It’s hard when you are learning something new and it doesn’t come to you naturally.” Jason noticeably calms down and slumps his shoulders. Dad continues, “I’ve got some ideas for you. Do you want to hear them?” Another teachable moment evolves from his calming his son down and getting back to task.
The third kind of teachable moment is rarely acknowledged. These occur not from circumstances and not from when your child has a problem. These occur when you have a problem with your child.
After Jason and his dad figure out his homework and he finishes it, his 4 year old sister comes into his room. “Get out, Emily. I don’t want you here in my room,” he shouts, and then pushes her down. Emily’s cries bring Jim running. Her dad scoops her up and stares down his son.
While comforting his daughter, Jim asks Jason, “Care to explain?”
“She was bothering me,” Jason countered. Jim paused to collect his thoughts and chose this to be another teachable moment for Jason.
“So, Emily was bothering you and you chose to shout at her and push her down.” Jim let Emily down and directed her to go play in her room and that he would be there shortly.
“Son, this isn’t like you. What else is going on?” Jason expected to be yelled at but puzzled instead. He began to explain his actions, while his dad active listened. When Jason was finished, dad asked, “Could there be other ways you could have handled your feelings better?”
Jason fell silent. Dad added, “Tell you what. Just climb on your bed for a while and lay there. No toys, no books, no electronics. I want you to think about other ways you could have handled your feelings and how you could have avoided hurting your sister. I’m going to tend to Emily and I’ll be back in a while to hear what you’ve come up with.”
While magic times and calming times are two sources of teachable moments with your child, confronting times is the flip side of teachable moments. All promote healthy relationship and creative problem-solving.
Sixteen year old Heather rushes into the kitchen one morning, harried and out of breath.
“Mama, can you please stop and iron my blouse. I want to wear this super cute outfit today, but I’m running out of time.”
Until recently, mom would have stopped fixing breakfast, taken the blouse from Heather, and then rushed to accommodate her frazzled daughter. Uh, why?
Several rationales come to mind. Let’s see. It’s what mothers do. I have to help her get out the door and get to school. I do a better job of ironing than she does. She’ll get upset at me if I don’t do it. Breakfast can be a little late today. I can make time…the list goes on.
Here’s the deal. None of these excuses have any merit. Being a nice and accommodating parent does not always translate into being a good parent. In fact, such accommodation can lead to Heather’s feeling entitled. That is, I can do what I want without consequences.
So, instead of “sure, honey. Let me get that for you,” mom sighs, takes a breath, and replies, “You know what, Heather? That’s not gonna work for me right now. I’m in the middle of putting breakfast on the table. How about you take the time yourself or maybe pick another outfit for today? Then you can iron what you need tonight for you to wear tomorrow without the rush.”
Wow! Can we do that as parents? In fact, yes. Actually, setting healthy boundaries for our children is an essential part of parenting. When you set boundaries, you convey self-respect, responsibility, value, and worth to your children. You also give them opportunity to take responsibility for themselves, accommodate, learn that actions have consequences, and plan ahead. Time crunches and crises are almost always self-induced.
Yes, you can say “no” and mean it. It’s freeing for you as a parent and it’s role modeling a critical quality of healthy relationships for your child. Setting healthy boundaries, active listening their upset and disappointment, and then helping your child adjust accordingly is a great teachable moment for all.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a Star Trek nut. Never had the series theme song as my ringtone, but I do like the lead-in…Space, the final frontier. For teens, having space and learning how to navigate it well, is their final frontier, on the boundary between adolescence and adulthood.
At 16, Alan was, well, Alan. He is tall, lanky, not particularly social nor athletic. He’s a computer gamer and he spends a lot of time in his bedroom watching YouTube videos and playing RPG’s with his friends. His role-playing friends are on-line. Each has the others back in the war games they play. Alan has only one friend in real life, his next door neighbor, Tommy, and they’ve known each other since they moved into the neighborhood when Tommy was 3 years old.
Alan is a B/C student, doing well in computer, math, and technology classes at school, not so well in English and history classes. His thumbs fly when he is texting, of course using the obligatory texting, emoji-laden short hand, but it is hard for him to turn in essay questions, book reports, or even stories that capture his imagination and gaming expertise. His teachers have tried everything to help motivate Alan to succeed in school.
So, the million dollar question. Is Alan’s story normal? Typical for his age group? As his parent, how do you check this out? How do you help him navigate to adulthood and successful, responsible, independent living?
Alan certainly wants his space, his own cocoon in his room. That, in and of itself is normal. Teens do these kinds of things on their journey of finding themselves. Establishing an individual identity is the developmental goal of adolescence. However, we all, also by nature, are social animals. Most folks have 1 or 2 best friends, with whom each is the other’s confidante, and a social network of 6 to 8 people, 2 or 4 couples as adults, with whom they frequently hang out.
To help the Alans of the world navigate adolescence to adulthood, several points come to mind. First, respect his need for space, but with some conditions. He must make an effort to emerge from his room for meals with the family, for school, and for other required appointments. Second, he must attend to responsibilities, such as homework, chores, errands and the like, before melting into his “space.”
Third, he must be willing to share his feelings with you at some level. Remember, kids don’t answer essay questions very well. So, when you get a shoulder shrug, look away, or silence in response, make your essay question a multiple choice question. You know your teen well enough to likely come up with a topic or area that’s troubling him. Use your active listening to help him flesh out his feelings and be available, on his request, to troubleshoot and advise.
Wanting space is not the teen problem. That’s normal. If they use that space to hole up, withdraw from social/family interaction, and push people away, then it’s a problem. With your kind assurance, healthy confrontation, and loving active listening, such problems can become teachable moments.
“But I want it,” little 3 yr. old Andy demanded, stomping his feet for emphasis. “Gimme right now.”
“That’s enough, young man,” huffed his mom, with hands on hips. “What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?”
Andy darted past his mom in the kitchen, sweeping loose objects off the kitchen table as he went. He screamed, running through the house, catching his breath only to declare loudly, “You’re so mean.”… “You’re not my mommy.”… “I don’t love you anymore.”
Andy’s behavior is unacceptable, and he is out of control. Mom pulled the power and authority card, but this time to no avail. Now what do you do?
Even in the most stable, best of homes and environments, tantrum behavior from some children is inevitable. Sometimes it is embarrassing, especially when thrown with company around or in a public place, like the supermarket. Always, it is challenging when you child is demonstrating out-of-control behavior. When your power and authority falls flat, shift your focus from your authority to his feelings. Active listening is the go-to tool whenever your child demonstrates an emotional fever. Tantrum behavior counts.
Sometimes, thankfully rarely, some children up the ante by demonstrating safety or property issues. If they are in danger of harming themselves, you, or others, and if they start randomly throwing and breaking things, you might use what’s called a nurturing/holding procedure, or NHP.
The NHP is a physical restraint of your child against his will, with your assurance that you will only control him until he can control himself. Get ready. Kids will resist and attempt to get loose or turn on you by biting, kicking, pinching, and the like.
Hold him from behind, with your legs wrapped around his and your arms covering his. Keep your head back, to avoid his head-butting you. As calmly and with soothing voice as possible, tell him, “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry you are having such a bad time. Right now, you can’t control yourself. Ya know what? I’m going to continue controlling you so that you don’t hurt yourself, me, others, or break things. I love you so much that I’m going to do this for you as long as I need to. As soon as you show me you’ve calmed down and regained your control, I’ll let you go.
When your child realizes he can’t get loose, and you mean what you say, he will calm himself down. As you see measures of this, acknowledge them with assurances. Often, when this norm is established, all parents need to do subsequently is ask, “Now, Andy, do I need to hold you tight again?” Their memory kicks in and they calm down. After calming himself down, even a tantrum can become a teachable moment.
Is there any time during the day more important for kids than bedtime? I don’t think so. Actually, it’s not a time, but a process. It’s a one-on-one with a parent and parents can take turns. It’s a special time, with each child in the family having a separate, designated bed time. In family life, it’s a settle down time.
“Okay, sweetheart, at the end of this show, turn off the television and let’s get started going to bed.” Mom prompted 8 year old Bethany, giving her lead time to make the transition.
“But, mama, what about…?” Bethany began to protest, but her mom cut her off. “Uh, uh, uh. Don’t do this, darlin’. You know the rules.”
“Yes, Mama.” Bethany turned her attention back to the t.v. to squeeze every ounce out of her day before going to bed.
Well intentioned parents teach their children early to put themselves to bed. What??? And give up such quality time with your child?
Other parents let their child play, irritate their brother, watch t.v., or game on their iPad or computer until the very last minute. Why allow a child to ramp up right before trying to go to sleep?
Other parents tolerate an abundance of stall tactics from children who don’t want to go to sleep.
Settle down time with your child is a precious gift, both from you to her, but also from her to you. With both my kids as they grew up and now with my grandkids when I’m called to duty, I try to allow up to 30 minutes of settle down time with each child. That’s time for talking about our days, active listening, telling or reading stories, being playful and funny.
As settle down time is closing, especially if I notice my child stalling, I shift to a more proactive focus. With preschoolers, I talk about the snuggle bunny who helps children be still and be silent. Even hyperactive kids will fall asleep within 3 minutes if they are still and silent. My snuggle bunny is a glistening white bunny who likes to snuggle next to the small of your back. However, he will only stay there if you are completely still and silent. You can feel a warmth there that tells you he is there, but if you try to look, he will scoot away and you will never see him. What is settle down time? It’ time for T L C – talking, listening, and cuddling.
Are chores a sticking point in your home? Do you get that “Ma, do I hafta?” refrain every time you bring chores up? Well, everybody who loves chores raise your hand. Nope. I didn’t think so.
Charlie was the wild child of the Miller’s 3 daughters, ages 2, 8, and 10. Her little sister was Miss Prissy and her older sister was all that, so Charlie got to do her own thing. She was a rough-house tomboy who would prefer tackle to touch football. It landed her in the principal’s office more than once for being too rough during gym class.
Mom Charlene, after whom Charlie was named, was firm to her daughter that Saturday morning, as the Miller family arose.
“Yes, sweetheart, you hafta.” She explained. “Saturday mornings around here are family clean-up, and, well, you’re part of the family.”
“Then…I want a divorce, you know, from the family. That way I don’t have to do stupid chores on Saturday mornings. Tommy and I are building a tree house today and we’ve got to get started, like, right now.”
Charlene chuckled to herself and then sighed, “Baby, you know it doesn’t work that way. Besides, we would all miss you terribly,” she added, as she moved in to tickle her daughter’s sides. Charlie squealed and then she got out of her bed.
Chores should not only be a part of the fabric of family life, they also help to form lasting bonds, build responsibility, and are a source of accountability, consistency, and pride.
As soon as your children are able to walk, they are able to help with house clean-up. At first, with a 2 year old, you pick up her stuffed animals with her and show her where to store them. With practice, you step away and she picks up more of the load. Not only does this activity have family benefits, it reinforces her worth, improves her eye-hand coordination, and gives her bragging rights on a job well done. With older children, use a targeted family meeting to outline Saturday morning chores and then divvy them up. Parents determine the quality of chore completion and can require a re-do if necessary.
Chore completion is outside of allowance or other pay. We don’t get paid for doing our part of family clean-up. Also, chores are outside of daily straightening, organizing, and order. Chore completion can be a part of the “yuck” factor in your family, or it can be a bonding factor. Regardless, yeah, ya hafta.
No surprise here. We live in the age of cyber-kids. Our kids have, or have access to, all kinds of electronic devices. Sometimes I ask my 6 year old granddaughter to help me out on my computer. You know what? She does. Not sure if that says more about her or me.
Also, no surprise that advanced technology is a two-edged sword. It can greatly benefit our lives and our parenting. It also can be a distraction that erodes family relationships over time. When my wife and I go out to eat, often I casually check iPhone use among families in the restaurant. I have seen a family of 5 people all separately on their phones, either texting or gaming, while waiting for their order to arrive. Wow!
One morning years ago, my then 2 year old granddaughter had awakened. She played in her crib for almost 45 minutes before looking up into the corner of her bedroom ceiling, at the camera, and declared, “Ok, mommy. I’m ready to get up now.” The age of cyber-kids.
Technology is a must for today’s school kids. Many teachers use the internet to supplement their lessons. This is one of the blessings of cyber-technology. However, folks are also considering computer gaming addiction as a real thing now. When technology has control over you, rather than you having control over it, there is something wrong.
Cell phones and other technologies have been known to contribute to sleep loss, cyber-bullying, lower school grades, obesity, and lack of exercise. What’s a parent to do?
First, take charge of home technology. Use the available computer and smart phone controls to determine where your kids can go in cyber-space and where they cannot go. Second, use timing apps to determine when your kids can turn their devices on and when they will go off, even if your child is smack in the middle of gaming. Third, declare electronics-free zones, especially around family meal time and bedtime. In fact, create a storage bin for all portable electronics, where devices are left before lights out each night. They can be picked back up in the morning.
These kinds of changes will be met with outrage by your children, if you haven’t implemented them from the get-go. Use a family meeting to address your concerns. Active listen your children’s outrage. Set a length of time as a trial period, after which the new rules will be reviewed. However, if these changes have positive benefit, such as more rest, less fighting, more fun times, more relationship-building, then stick to your guns. Rules over technology use will benefit your children in the long run.
A coin has two sides, heads and tails. Neither is better than the other. They are just different. However, the coin could not be without both sides. The sides make the coin. Such is a parent’s love for their child.
“My little Joey is such a angel…when he is sleeping.” Amanda sipped her coffee before continuing with her friend, Rose. “Don’t get me wrong. I love my little boy so much, but, whew, is he a handful sometimes.” Rose commiserated with her friend.
“Sometimes I just have to jerk a knot in him, you know, give him consequences for his bad choices. I feel so guilty after he gives me those soulful, puppy dog eyes when I put him in the corner.”
Rose chimed in, “Amanda, don’t beat yourself up. You’re a great mom. You listen to Joey when he’s upset and trying to get out of his punishment. But you also help him realize that he has made a bad choice and that there are consequences for his actions.”
“I know,” Amanda sighed, “but still…”
These moms love their children. They know that the parenting coin has two sides, both empathy and confrontation. With empathy, you teach your child that they have a right to their feelings, and you empower them to make good choices. With confrontation, you teach them that there are consequences to their choices that have impact both on them and on those around them. Both empathy and confrontation are required from us parents to prepare our children for their adult world.
Many children today seem to suffer from false empowerment. That is, they have a sense of entitlement with feeling of impunity. I can do what I want, with no consequences. Parents of these children tend to be permissive, wanting their children to have full and enriching experiences, with few or no limits to their actions. Such permissive parenting can lead to selfishness, lack of empathy, insecurity, and potential bullying.
In Chapter 3 of my book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, I offer that children will always test the limits. However, they do so to be sure that the limits are there. Being in charge is every child’s worst nightmare, leading to fear and anxiety.
For you, the parent, to be in charge, you need to flip a coin. Both empathy and confrontation, the two sides of your parenting coin, need to be used to help your child find their place in the world.
As parents, we do a lot of directing, instructing, and correcting with our children. It comes with the territory. But, my question to you today is this. Are you also grateful for your child and do you affirm him? All of these qualities can lead to teachable moments.
Twelve year old Buck lived up to his nickname. Being Henry, Jr. just didn’t cut it, so his folks went with Buck. Boy, did his nickname ring true. He seemed to try to buck all the rules.
“Buck, I showed you how I wanted the icing on the cookies. Why are you doing it differently?” asked his mama while they were preparing cookies to the party. “I don’t know,” pondered Buck. “I just wanted to try it this way.”
Now, mama has a choice. She can assert her rightful parental authority by telling Buck to start over and ice the cookies the way she had told him. Even saying it nicely would lead her to direct, instruct, and correct her son.
Or, she could think, “It’s only cookies. How they look is not the point.” This thinking might lead her to be grateful for Buck’s help on the project and to affirm his creativity in adding his own touch.
The mindful parent is aware of both her own needs and feelings, as well as those of her child in the moment. When you look for the bigger picture, you may capture a teachable moment.
Mama saw Buck’s tentative look, like he expected to be scolded for doing something wrong. “You know,” she decided how to handle the situation, “there are lots of ways to decorate cookies. No right way.” She reached over to hug her son, even as he jokingly tried to pull away. “I like your creativity. It’s your personal touch on the cookies. Good for you.” Buck lit up and beamed, as he went back to icing the cookies.
Are you grateful for your child’s efforts, even if they are different than expected? Are you affirming his individuality and creativity? You are creating teachable moments he will remember forever.
So it seems that the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears applies to effective parenting as well. You remember, Goldilocks found herself in the home of the Three Bears in the woods. The Bear family was not there. After helping herself to their meal on the table, Goldilocks got sleepy. She found their beds to be too hard, too soft, and then just right. I’m hoping that you are working on a parenting style that is just right.
“Patrick, you’re room is a mess. Stop what your gaming and clean it up.” “But, dad, I…” “I said, ‘now’ son.” “But why can’t I…?” “What part of ‘now’ don’t you understand?” “But why…?” “Because I am your father and I said so. So get to it. No more buts.”
Here is an example of waaay too hard parenting. Others would call this authoritative, or drill sergeant parenting. This kind of exchange is fear-based and power-oriented. There is no relationship here, only authority. Most children in this environment end up being bullies to their peers and can’t wait to leave the home when they come of age.
“Patrick, hey buddy. Your room is looking a little ragged here. Mind if I help you pick it up?” “Knock yourself out, Dad,” Patrick replied, with his thumbs flying, keeping his eyes locked on to the game. “Uh, do you mind putting your snack wrappers and soda cans in the trash can by your side there? I’ll pick up your dirty clothes.” “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of mortal combat, Dad?” “Well, sure, son. Okay, then, finish your game and pick things up before you come down for supper, okay?” “Yeah, whatever, Dad.”
Here is an example of waaay too soft parenting. Others would call this permissive. The child is left to his own devices, with no substantive direction. Who’s in charge? Patrick. Children are too young to be in charge. It just gets them anxious and hyper. They grow up feeling like they can do anything they want, with no consequences. They don’t play nicely with others. As young adults, they never want to leave home. Why would they? All their needs are catered to.
“Yo, Patrick. Dude. This place is a pigsty.” Dad moves to the gaming station and pushes the pause button.” “Dad!!! What are you doing? I’m in the middle of this.” “And you will continue to be in the middle of it after you clean your room. This room is a health hazard. You can be neat and stay healthy and still finish your gaming afterward.” “Aww, man…” Dad lingers and directs Patrick’s efforts, putting a few things away himself. As he is helping out, he active listens Patrick’s complaints and redirects to the positive consequences of his clean-up actions.
Finally, Dad got it right. This is just right parenting. It promotes relationship, responsibility, accountability, and reward. Kids with just right parenting play nice with others, are considerate, and plan well for coming events. They understand give and take, accept responsible freedom, and are launched successfully into young adulthood. Is your parenting just right?