There is no end to the opportunities and ways in which we can positively influence our children. Those opportunities are at the heart of teachable moments.
“Daddy, why do turtles have shells?” Answering such questions softly, directly, and with emotional intensity creates a teachable moment. “Well, sweetheart, that’s a good question. The turtle’s body is under that thick shell. It would be sad for turtles body’s to be exposed to the dangers of their world. Now, you don’t have a turtle’s shell (and then I playfully poke my daughter’s tummy), but how your mama and I loving and protecting you and keeping you safe is kinda like having your own turtle shell.”
When you notice your child having an emotional fever, however, start with active listening to help get the fever down before launching into a teachable moment.
“This stinks!! (my son slams his math book down and throws his pencil at the wall) I’m never going to get these stupid math problems.” Now, you have a choice. You can correct the behavior and miss connecting with your son and not have a teachable moment. “You stop that right now, young man. Get back to work. Math will be important to you one day.”
OR, you active listen to help lower his emotional fever and reframe the event to help him get perspective.
“Wow, that math’s kicking your butt!”
“I hate it! I’ll never get it.”
“It’s frustrating for it to not come to you easily, like playing baseball does, huh. But tell me something. Why are you so good at baseball?”
“I’m a natural.” My son smiles broadly.
“I see. Hmmm. Got all that talent without a lick of practice, huh?”
“Well, no. I’m in the batting cage every day. I eat well. I get my sleep. I chill out. I listen to my coach.”
“Hmmm. So, if I’m hearing you correctly, there’s a lot of hard work and effort to becoming a natural athlete. Hmmm.”
“Okay, Dad, I see what you are doing here.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Well, my math teacher’s my coach, and this stupid homework is my practice. And if I don’t keep at it, math will kick my butt.”
“Wow! I don’t think I could have said it better myself. I’ve got some suggestions about that stupid math. Do you want to hear them?
Teachable moments come in all shapes and sizes. They happen playfully, out of fun times. They also happen seriously, out of emotional storms. The key is to be ready for the opportunity and to make the most of it. Teachable moments create fun, responsibility, creativity, problem-solving, emotional intimacy, and positive childhood memories. Teachable moments are your gift to your children.
Did you know? It’s true. What you focus on grows. Suppose there are 100 parts to our children (and us, for that matter). These parts are either good or bad and proportional. So, if 9 year old Janey has 63 parts good, she has 37 parts bad. The parts always add up to 100. You know what? What you pay attention to grows. If you pay attention to the 63 good parts, over time they become 68, 72, 75 parts. If you pay attention to the 37 bad parts, over time they become 40, 46, 52, and the good parts go proportionally down because, remember, the total always equals 100. Every harsh comment increases the bad parts and lowers the good parts. Every praise and blessing increases the good parts and lowers the bad parts. So, what do you focus on?
“Janey, what is wrong with you? You know better than that!” Wow, can’t you just feel those bad parts creeping up? Sure, Janey will look downcast and feel shamed into stopping her behavior. But, she has learned that she can get your attention by doing bad stuff.
“Hey, Janey, let’s stop just a minute. Are you sure what you are doing is helpful to both you and your brother?” Janey may think, “wait, what?” and be confused at first, but your effort is to join her in figuring out better behavior. She has learned that she can go to you to help her fix things.
My family and I went to the zoo recently. As we are walking around, I pick up snippets of what I call yuppy parenting. “Thank you, son, for walking beside me and not running ahead.” “Wow. Look at you, being a good big sister and gently pushing you baby brother’s stroller.” “Let the younger ones get closer to the glass. Sharing is caring, you know.” These parents bring attention to the good parts and you can see their children beam in their praise.
We live in a world of negatives. We humans crave attention. Attention has an absolute quality to it, so that both negative attention and positive attention fill the bill. Unfortunately, negative attention us usually easier and quicker to get than is positive attention. When you find things about your children to rave about and to heap positive attention on them, you are creating teachable moments. You are giving them a firm foundation of positive self-worth and attention. They will flourish in this negative world. What you focus on grows, so focus on the positive.
In all homes, even in Christian homes, trouble comes in all shapes and sizes. Big trouble, little trouble, parent trouble, kid trouble. The question is not about how to avoid trouble. Rather, it’s, “How much trouble do you want to buy?”
Five year old Joey leaves a mess in the family room after gaming on the TV for a while. Cookie crumbs, spilt milk that the cat is now licking up, jacket thrown on the floor. Well intentioned moms might think, “He’s just a little boy and boys will be boys,” as she cleans up his mess. Of course, mom’s thoughts are exactly right, but how much trouble is she buying both immediately and down the road?
In the present, mom has to either look at the mess and accept a new normal, or take time from what she was doing to clean up Joey’s mess. She might even rationalize that she is being a “good mommy.”
Down the road, Joey becomes a pre-teen with feelings of entitlement with impunity. That is, “I can do what I want with no consequences.” As a teen, has Joey been set up to blow off his studies, get poor grades, come and go as he pleases, and find trouble with the law? Now what kind of a mommy has his mom been?
Imagine my left hand is the point in time when you recognize that there’s a problem. This is a finite point and you can tag the problem to that point in time. My right hand is in motion and represents the time at which point you address the problem. It can be inches from my left hand or as far away as I can reach. You have control over when you address the problem. The distance between my hands defines the amount of trouble you are buying with your response. What to do? What to do?
When I see it this way, I’m want to address the problem as soon as I recognize it, inches from my left hand. I’m not going to hold off and see how it comes out. Holding off just buys more trouble.
My granddaughter has the habit of using the bathroom, and then leaving the lid up, toilet unflushed, and light on in the bathroom. When I notice this, I call it to her attention. Since we have repeatedly had this discussion, all I need to do now is call her name, with “that tone in my voice,” and she goes, “Oh, yeah. I forgot again,” before going back to the bathroom to correct the problem. Hopefully, I am slowly encouraging her to develop healthy, responsible habits. I could yell at her or grumble under my breath as I clean her mess up. However, both of those options are power-related and only lead to anger, frustration, and emotional distance.
Addressing problems as soon as we are aware of them minimizes the trouble and creates a teachable moment while also encouraging emotional intimacy and healthy relationship. How much trouble do you want to buy? For me, as little as possible.
Did you know? There are consequences to actions. If I speed while driving, I might get a ticket because I’ve broken a law. As a Christian parent, Proverbs 22:6 tells me to “train my children up in the ways of the Lord, so that, when they grow old, they will not depart from Him.” Just like getting a ticket on the highway, my child needs to know that his actions have consequences. Do good and good things happen. Do bad and bad things happen. We are charged with training up our children in the ways of the Lord.
All parents use restriction as a matter of consequence when your child strays from your expectations. But what kind of restriction? You want your child to conform to your expectations and follow the rules, but at what cost? The Old Testament talks about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. This is a power-based restriction and the foundation of the correctional model. “Three F’s! Joey, what’s the matter with you? You’re grounded until those grades come up. Go to your room and don’t come out except to eat and use the bathroom. Get those grades up, Boy!”
The correctional model is like going to jail. While well-intended, it breeds better criminals. Kids think about how mean you are, how to get around the restrictions, and hope that with time you will forget all about the punishment.
The relational model holds your child accountable, but also encourages his participation in getting back on the right track. “Three F’s! Wow! This isn’t like you, Joey. I’m very disappointed. We need a plan to help you work on getting those grades back up.
In Scripture, God showed the Israelites Judgement when they messed up. They went through hard times. When they got the memo and started abiding by God’s laws again, God showed them compassion and their favored status was restored. When Jesus Christ came to redeem all who accept Him as Lord and Savior, God showed mercy.
This progression from judgement to compassion to mercy is the heart of the relational model of restriction. Give your child a time frame of restriction, but then lessen it as he shows progress toward the goal. This is your compassion. If he reaches the goal before the restriction is up, give him mercy and restore his privileges.
The correctional model of restriction is about power. The relational model of restriction is about creating teachable moments in your relationship with your child. Are your restrictions about power or relationship? Create teachable moments with your restrictions and help your child grow emotionally and spiritually.