A “teachable moment” can happen almost anywhere and at any time. They are generally not planned learning experiences and are not limited to academics. Chances are the most valuable moral lessons you learned from your parents were not consciously taught. They were learned while living and observing others during the midst of an ordinary day. Home, school, work, and play all provide rich opportunities for discovering teachable moments. Therefore it is vital parents train themselves to recognize and take full advantage of these moments.
Infants: Infants cycle through several phases of sleep and alert times during the day and night. While the opportune time for interaction with your baby is during the “quiet and alert” phase, we teach our babies constantly by the way we respond to their needs. Going to them when they cry, cuddling and making eye contact while feeding, and talking and singing to them are all ways our babies begin to trust us and the world around them.
Toddlers and Pre-schoolers: The natural curiosity and boundless energy typical in small children provides fertile ground for teachable moments. Literally every activity you participate in during the day can be utilized in some way. Asking questions about what you see, pointing out colors and shapes in the supermarket, comparing something familiar with something that is not, and talking out conflict situations, are just a few ways you teach your child about the world.
Throughout your children’s lives there are events that take place which open the door for tough questions. When someone close to your child dies, a baby is born, or a difficult change takes place, you can capitalize on these events by talking openly and honestly with your child. Be sure to keep your answers brief and direct. Give them only enough information to satisfy their curiosity to avoid overwhelming them with more details than they can handle.
Remember also that your children are watching you. The behaviors and values they see you practicing are the ones they will emulate. They learn to be kind to others by observing your kindness. When you demonstrate calmness in the face of frustration, they are learning patience and self-control. Even simple acts such as driving with caution and following traffic laws teach your child about good citizenship!
School-agers and Teens: Although teachable moments aren’t planned, parents can learn to recognize the opportunities as they present themselves. Riding in a car with your children provides you with a “captive” audience. Because your attention is generally focused on the road, there isn’t much direct eye contact. This affords everyone a little personal space as you discuss sensitive issues. Talking about popular music lyrics, last night’s television program, what happened at school, and things going on around you as you drive can open a multitude of doors for constructive conversation.
If you witness a disturbing scene while at the store you can say, “Wow, did you see how she was behaving? Perhaps she is having a very bad day. How could she have handled that differently?” While grocery shopping you can have your adolescent help you keep track of spending so you can teach her about budgeting. “We can’t buy both the ice cream and special cereal. Which would you rather have?” This helps children and young adults learn about making responsible choices.
Again, children are constantly watching what we do. If we are given back too much change and return it, what a wonderful opportunity for them to witness ethical behavior in action! Even better, go beyond ethical behavior and model compassionate care. Let your children see you offering aid to those in need. Let them accompany you as you visit an ailing friend or bake goodies for an elderly neighbor. Practice random acts of kindness and the fruits of your labors will reach generations to come!