Teachable moments…So, what’s the big deal? How do you know when you’ve had one with your child? Here I have a radio spot encouraging them. My book, Teachable Moments: Building Blocks of Christian Parenting, gives you a road map to encourage them. The results of having teachable moments with your children is closer, more nurturing relationship, and emotional intimacy. Yeah, teachable moments are a big deal in healthy families.
Jenny comes bursting in the back door, sobbing and hopping around on her left foot. “Sweetheart, what happened?” mom asks as she drops everything to come to her aid. “I stepped on a bee, and he didn’t like it. Not one bit,” Jenny gasped between sobs. “He stung me, Mama.”
Her mom knelt down, folded Jenny into her arms, and let her sob into her shoulder. She softly soothed her little girl and active listened her feelings. “Aw, baby, that hurt lots, huh?” Jenny calmed and then declared angrily, “mean ol’ bee. What did I do to it?”
Mama saw a teachable moment. “You know, sweetheart, that’s a good question.” Jenny looked at her mom, puzzled. Mom continued, “If a big ol’ giant came into our neighborhood, and even accidentally stepped on our home, what do you think you would do?” Jenny thought a moment. “I’d scream and then run fast away.”
“Uh huh,” pondered mama. “And if you could, you might just take a bite out of that giant’s big toe to show him who’s boss.” Jenny’s mom tickled her little girl’s belly and they both laughed. After a pause, mama continued, “You know, sweetheart, to that bad ol’ bee, you were a giant. You didn’t mean to, but you probably stepped on Mr. Bee’s house in the ground, and he just got you good, huh?”
Jenny nodded her agreement and sniffed. “Here,” mama reached for Jenny’s right foot, “Let me kiss that bee sting all better.” And she did. Jenny then asked, “What’s for dinner? I’m hungry.”
Teachable moments are those times when you calm your child’s upset, convey wisdom to your child, and you share a time of kindred spirt. Jesus said that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Teachable moments help us on that journey in our families from surviving, having life, to thriving, having life more abundantly.
It’s true! Parenting is a 24/7/365 job, with no time off, no vacation, no breaks. Remember when that little new born was laying on your chest right after their birth? Despite the pains of childbirth, and don’t let anyone try to convince you that it’s just “pressure,” new parents feel an understandable mix of joy, terror, excitement, pressure, relief, and dread.
Jody was sweating, her hair matted, and her heart racing after just having given birth to Hannah. She reached out to the nurse who held tiny Hannah and extended her to place in Jody’s awaiting arms. New daddy, Tommy, leaned in smiling, witnessing the blessing of their new family. Jody looked back and forth from Hannah to Tommy. Terrifying questions flooded her mind. Oh… my… gosh, what have we gotten ourselves into? Can I do this? Am I ready? This little bundle of human being is totally helpless and completely my responsibility.
It’s also true that raising children takes a village. We lucky parents have the available resources of our children’s grandparents, extended family, neighbors, co-ops, play groups, day cares, church groups, and many other, personalized resources. Being “alone” with your newborn is avoidable, but you have to reach out. You have to ask. When our children were home, Maggie and I developed the concept of what we called tag team parenting. When one of us was done, exhausted, at our wit’s end, we could reach out and tag the other, “You’re it.” Tag other people in your lives when there’s too much to do.
Other things to do when there’s too much to do include delegate, organize, make lists, plan ahead, streamline, and make time to chill out. Many new parents race around doing everything that was on hold while the baby was awake. Do those things with your new baby and she will get used to household routines and not scream for your attention endlessly. Rule of thumb for new moms. When Hannah is sleeping, Jody is sleeping, or at least resting, too. If you don’t give yourself time for your needs and feelings, called self-care, your time for your baby, called other care, will be less meaningful for both of you. When there’s too much to do, go for a balance between self-care and other-care.
P.T. Barnum, the great circus entrepreneur, was right when he suggested that you can please some of the people some of the time, but never all of the people all of the time. That bit of wisdom can help families plan for vacation. Whether it’s a weekend trip to grandma’s or a week or two at the beach, vacations go better with full family planning.
“Okay, guys,” barked dad, “I called this family meeting to jointly plan the best…vacation…ever for our family. I told you about this a couple weeks ago and asked all of us to come up with realistic fun ideas for a vacation that all of us can enjoy.”
With this opening, the Clarks gathered in comfy chairs in the family room. Nine year old Emily was enthusiastic, while teens Donnie and Alex tolerated her and the meeting. Mom had baked fresh cookies for the event and dad had asked all to allow for no more than an hour to come up with something.
“Alex, Donnie, put your electronics up. No distractions, just good ideas,” chimed in mom, “Who wants to suggest something?”
This would be a great beginning to a productive meeting. If you’ve never had a family meeting before, use this as a template, but expect a bumpy ride until you get a rhythm.
Mom and dad are in charge. They active listen the griping, confront the off-task behavior, and encourage helpful ideas. First, they tackle brainstorming all ideas. Be ready for someone to suggest something totally off the wall. Even so, write all ideas down without comment. After compiling a list, the parents encourage the kids to look at each item carefully within the restrictions of time and money. Some will feel constrained, even defeated. Active listen again and help them get back on track. Make sure each family member’s needs and feelings are addressed and that the list has at least one activity geared special for each family member. Also, everybody does their part in getting ready for, packing, unpacking, and sharing in the chores needed for all to have a great time. Finally, a parent or older child is directed to write down the outcomes of the family meeting and everybody gets a copy of it. This curtails the “yeah, but’s” and “you said’s” that can sabotage the outcome.
If the process bogs down, don’t go longer than an hour. Just schedule a follow-up time to pick up where you left off. There will be foot-dragging when you try something new like this in your vacation planning. However, the rewards of sharing, fun, and letting loose will be the result of keeping at it and getting it done. The process of planning vacation time as a family can, in itself, be a teachable moment for all.
Ugh! Sibling rivalry sounds like such a bad term. What good can come from sibling rivalry? Well, actually, lots. While there are some famous accounts of bad sibling rivalry, think Cain and Abel from the Bible, siblings are the second most influential and important people in our lives.
At 12 months, Joey was enjoying being breast-fed by mama. While feeding, however, he noticed older brother Andy scampering across the room toward them. Andy came over and tickled his younger brother, who interrupted his lunch to squeal in delight. Later, while scooting on his hands and knees in pursuit of Andy, Joey stopped next to the couch, pulled himself up, and tentatively let go of the couch. With wobbly legs, he fought to balance himself and took several steps toward his brother before lowering himself back to the ground. Both his brother and mother clapped and gave him words of encouragement. Joey beamed after taking his first tentative steps, with much more to come.
Every parent revels with delight as their child takes their first steps. Those steps, however, might have been delayed for a while had Joey not felt a certain jealousy and sibling rivalry toward older brother Andy. Andy was his role model and both Andy and mama were his cheerleaders. The combination of role model and encouragement led to Joey’s momentous first steps. Of course, children without older siblings learn to walk as well, but usually a little bit later without the peer role model.
Sibling relationships have a “me-you-us” quality to them. As parents, we want to encourage our children’s individuality, parenting them accordingly. Developmental differences come into play as well. Usually, when parents have children who are less than 2 years apart, they are parented jointly and grow up as playmates. When the children are over 3 years apart, they often have different developmental needs. To avoid negative sibling rivalry, it’s important to encourage the older child to be helpful with the younger one. Children born in the no-man’s land of 2-3 years apart can have more contentious sibling rivalry. Because of sibling rivalry, younger children tend to reach milestones sooner than their older sibs did. Active listening, encouragement, and presenting options can promote positive sibling rivalry.
Remember to... Just breathe
Do you have enough stress in your life? When a person finds The One and they marry, each doubles their stress load. Add children and the stress load continues to multiply. Like intersecting circles, each person requires time and attention as relationships form. For yourself, even in your growing family, it is critical for all to remember to…just breathe.
Joanie is a new mom, again. She has newborn Jamie now, along with his three preschooler siblings. Tom works long hours just to keep current with all of their expenses. He helps when he is home, but with his work that’s not much. How is new mom Joanie ever going to meet the needs for time and attention from hubby and her brood?
Philosopher Mitch Thrower notes that “one of the best things you can do when the world is storming around you is to pause.” Pause. That doesn’t take a lot of time. About the time it takes to take a deep breath. But that deep breath is critical to the health and well-being of you and your family.
A deep breath is a calming technique used for stress management. There are lots of affirmations tied to that deep breath. I can do this. I’m important too. I can relax for a moment even in all of this turmoil. I will restore my perspective and my soul.
In my book, Teachable Moments, I offer directions for “Chillin’ Out.” This is a way to help you focus on the moment, turn worry into curiosity, and fully relax by noticing the happy place you visit in your mind where all of your five senses come alive.
Joanie paused as she diapered Jamie at the changing table, and she took a deep breath. She transported herself to the beach last summer, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face, and hearing the gulls in the air and the waves tumbling on the sand. She smiled softly, finished changing her newborn, and then directed the other children to pick up all the toys off the floor around her and return them to the toy box. Her deep breath helped her energize, prioritize, and realize the joy of family.