Teachable moments are all around us. They arise spontaneously and are fleeting opportunities to make a great impact on our kids. From teaching our kids how to share, dress, talk, act, listen to the bigger lessons of how the world works, what is equality vs. equity, we as parents, have a unique opportunity in fostering the values of a future generation. But while we teach our kids the skills to survive (and thrive) in this world, we need to remember the Big Picture – What kind of people do we hope our kids will grow up to be? Because all our teachable moments should have a greater purpose and that purpose should not be compliance.
Not too long ago (pre-corona times), I spent an amazing weekend with an old friend. She is a mom now too. So while we may have gotten away from our kids physically, we did not get away from them mentally. And it led to some interesting conversations. We talked about what exactly we are trying to achieve on our parenting journey? And it led to some deep soul searching.
Right now I’m in the thick of parenting a preschooler and a young toddler. So the day to day is hard. It’s both physically and mentally taxing. My days are filled with tears, screams, tantrums, laughter, cuddles and answering a million questions. My days are also filled with making choices as to how to handle situations when my kids misbehave or don’t listen, what food to serve, how much screen time to allow, how strictly to enforce bedtime, and so forth. And in having to constantly make so many small decisions, I don’t have the space to consider how these decisions fit into my overall parenting goals. So being absent from the day to day is exactly what I needed to be able to focus on the bigger picture.
The Big Picture
Here’s my Big Picture:
I want my sons to be kind to all creatures, generous, accepting and welcoming of cultures and people different from them; figure out their own authentic version of what it means to be a man, equal partners in a relationship, have a career that is both satisfying and allows for financial security.
What my picture doesn’t include is pushing them towards picking a specific profession, going to a specific college, living in a specific city, pushing them to become parents. I want my children to be able to make choices that are right for them. But in order for them to be able to make choices that will positively affect their lives, I, as a parent, have to work hard when they’re younger. And this brings me back to the challenges of parenting my kids every day.
How to Capitalize on Teachable Moments
While the kids are little, the decisions we’re faced with are very in the present – how do I diffuse this tantrum; is it OK if I let them watch 30 more minutes of TV because I need this time to put dinner on the table; does it matter if I let them walk out of the house in 2 different socks? The list goes on and on. The decisions seem so life or death at the moment but they’re really not.
Let’s go back to when your first kid was a baby.
Did you spend countless hours researching about the the impacts of the CIO method on your child? What did you decide? Did your child cry it out or did you end up helping them soothe themselves until they were ready to do this on their own? Did anyone’s kid still need to be rocked when they were going off to school (and I mean this for the neurotypical kids only)?
What about the strict introduction of foods to your kid? Did it make any difference in terms of their food preferences? Did holding off on sweets change your child’s preference for sweet foods? What about all the organic food you fed your child? Did it prevent them from eating dirt as a toddler? I guess, at least, dirt is organic! So a win there!
The reason I asked you these questions about your first kid is because I think that as they get older and as you have more kids, you realize that all those small decisions we agonized about are really not that big of a deal. We end up missing the forest for the trees. While we’re wondering whether staying an extra couple of minutes at bedtime will turn our child into a stage 4 clinger (it won’t), we forget to have the big and important conversations with them. Now, I’m not saying that you don’t need to enforce rules, set boundaries, model appropriate behavior. You absolutely do. But I’m saying that it shouldn’t take up all the mental space of parenting.
We should remember that every tantrum, every laugh, every connection with our child is a teachable moment. And this teachable moment stretches much farther than getting their compliance on a specific issue. For example, when you’re trying to enforce a boundary, you’re teaching your child a greater lesson about life. There are limits and they need to be respected. Not blindly followed without question, but respected.
Same as when you show your kindness towards animals, your child learns that all creatures need to be respected and cared for. And if you value diversity, then when your child points out someone’s skin color, don’t shush them with embarrassment, but validate that people are indeed different and it’s a beautiful thing. Use this moment as a gateway to a conversation about race, skin color, gender and all the other things that make every one of us unique and valuable. Use everyday occurrences as stepping stones to a greater understanding of life and as building blocks for your child’s character. Our every day is filled with teachable moments. Don’t miss them!
How to Not Miss the Teachable Moments?
I’ll be honest, I don’t do this enough. I get overstimulated emotionally and start putting compliance above all else. And when I do that, a teachable moment is lost and the interaction becomes a battle. One that if I win, I win by the sheer fact that I’m bigger, smarter and wield all the power. Not a fair fight, if you ask me. What’s worse is that while my kids are small, I do win based on those parameters, but what happens when they get bigger?
I’m a boy mom and I’m short (5’2 to be exact), while my husband is 6’1 and my father is 6’2. How many more years of pure physical dominance do I have on my boys? Maybe another 7-9? But what then? They’ll still be kids that I need to care for, make big decisions for, but I won’t be able to bully them into the decisions. That’s why it’s important to concentrate on teachable moments, not compliance.
It’s important to be mindful about what the bigger picture is that we’re trying to achieve with our discipline and our choices. Because parenting is all about letting go. It’s about letting go of our power, control, ability to influence. And it’s about preparing children that thrive and positively contribute to the world.
So I encourage you to sit down and write down what is your overarching goal in raising your children. What values do you want them to uphold? What kind of people do you want them to grow up to be? How will they impact the world? And after you write this down, keep it in a safe place. Refer to it periodically to see how everyone is doing. Is the ship still on course? Does the course need a correction? As your kids get older, start asking more and more about who they want to be? What do they value? Ask them why? Use these conversations to learn about each other and stay connected.
And most importantly don’t miss the teachable moments. They’re fleeting but their impact can be felt many years down the line. Use them wisely!