When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take classes at the Institute of Religion. One of my favorite instructors was relatively young but so full of wisdom. Something I loved about his classes was the stories he would tell of his wife. It never really struck me at the time, but now as I go about my days as a mom, I often recall his words and realize how much those stories have impacted my goals as a mother.
One thing he often talked about was taking advantage of those small, unplanned but powerful teaching moments. These are the teaching moments we face in the heat of the moment. This would be very unlike teaching in times of non-conflict. This is the moment to drive those lessons we have been trying to teach all the way into the heart of the child.
These moments are powerful because we are dealing with them at the moment it is pertinent to the child. These moments come unexpectedly, and leave quickly. Because of this, we as as parents need to be prepared to seize these moments as they come up.
This means we need to be prepared in many ways. We need to be present and available for the child. We need to be prepared to offer our wisdom to our child. I also believe it is helpful if we are prayerful and ask the Lord's guidance as we talk with our child.
What are some examples of these teaching moments? I haven't had a whole lot of these yet--these tend to be moments that are highly charged with moral lessons, and children don't face these moral dilemmas until they are a little older. Never-the-less, I have had some simplistic examples.
The first that comes to mind is playing Christmas songs at the piano with my children at Christmas time. The first year I did this consistently, Brayden was 3 and Kaitlyn 18 months. Every day, we sat at the piano and sang through several Christmas songs. After a while of doing this, Brayden started asking deeper questions about Jesus Christ and wanting to learn more about His life and what it all meant.
This was an unplanned and powerful teaching moment. This was a moment when it was beneficial for me to be knowledgeable in the questions my child was asking. He was interested at that moment, and when we are interested, we learn more. It was also a moment to not worry about what was next on the schedule, but to just sit and discuss the topic as long as his interest held.
I should interject that I expect there to be plenty of times my children ask me questions I don't know the answer to. These are also powerful teaching opportunities because it is a moment to show your child how to find answers. Turn to resources with your child by your side to learn the answers to the questions.
Another example of an unplanned but powerful teaching moment was one time when Brayden hit Kaitlyn. I have a post on it because it was one of those teaching moments that was very powerful and tender for both of us: http://www.babywisemom.com/2010/03/in-action-remaining-calm-for-discipline.html.
Fights with siblings and friends are great opportunities for powerful teaching moments. If your child comes in crying because a friend was unkind, if you are like me you want to defend your child and assure your child he is the most awesome person ever. But these are great moments to sit cuddled up with your child and talk about the situation. Talk about what happened and how your child felt about it. Talk about how to handle situations, but don't lecture.
I then take these moments later when the child who once had the hurt feelings is now doing the hurting of feelings. I remind the child about the time his feelings were hurt and what he had wished happened instead. He then has a perspective of empathy and can work out the situation in a kind manner. "Do you remember when so-and-so didn't want to sit by you on the bus? Do you remember how you felt? How did you feel?"..."That's right, you felt sad. Do you think that [insertfriend] might be feeling sad right now that you don't want to include him in your playing?"..."I think he does too. Do you think you should invite him to play with you?"..."I think that is a great idea."
Another example is being there when the child is scared or worried about something. You talk it through and help your child practice coping mechanisms for dealing with the fear.
There will also be moments your child feels in intense emotion like anger. Children need guidance in how to temper emotions. Training in times of non-conflict is great, but you will greatly benefit from responding appropriately to the moments your child is angry and helping him gain control.
There are some prime opportunities that offer great time for these unplanned teaching moments. One is right when your child gets home from something, be it school or a playdate. Be available to talk about what went on in the day.
Family mealtime is a great opportunity to talk about your day.
Another is bedtime. Children are always willing and eager to talk at bedtime--it delays sleeping right? :) You can be one step ahead and start bedtime routine earlier so there is plenty of time for talking while still getting to bed at a good time each night. You will also find many questions arise while reading bedtime stories with a child, especially if it is one-on-one reading and the child feels safe and comfortable.
One-on-one activities are also great opportunities for good discussions. I find this especially true for Brayden. He is a male and does not like to just sit and "gab" like Kaitlyn will. I have my questions I ask him as soon as he walks in the door, but he rarely has answers that bring any depth to them. When we are alone together for extended periods, however, he starts spilling forth his intimate thoughts faster than I can gather them up. I love to take him to run errands on a Saturday because after a while, he will start telling me things that have happened and how he feels about them. This is also true after doing chores for a long period. We have three bathrooms and I often have him help me clean. But the end of the second bathroom, the stories start to roll.
These unplanned teaching moments can seem hard to produce before you have experienced them. The point here is that these opportunities come whether you are ready or not. So be ready. Be available, be in tune to your child, and be ready to listen to the issues as your child brings them to you.
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