Finding the Teachable Moment
“That’s because,” Monica added, “they give us our most embarrassing moments.”
“For example, at gymnastics class the other day, Danielle, my three-year old, told the instructor she wasn’t going to get off the mat. She smarted off and told her instructor she was going to somersault as long as she wanted, and the instructor couldn’t stop her. I was shocked at what came out of her mouth. Danielle’s tone was so ugly, and I was taken off guard. I was, am and embarrassed by her behavior. I feel responsible for it. At home she can be demanding, but I have never seen her act like this. I didn’t know what to do or say to make the situation better. I’m embarrassed Danielle could act that way.”
Three-year-olds begins to make us “pay for our raising." They can say things that seem to come out of nowhere, putting us in awkward situations. One of my grandfather’s favorite stories about me (there were a few!) was about taking me shopping. Driving home, we stopped at an intersection across from a police car. I stuck my head out of the window and yelled to the police officer, “Help! Help! A mean man is kidnapping me!”
My age: almost three years to the day. My granddad knew the officer, and from that day forward the officer always knew me. Officer Charlie used the incident as a teachable moment. He let me know that I should scream for help only if I needed it. He told my granddad, “Well, Earl, it sounds like she watched last week’s Highway Patrol.”
As adults, we’ve learned to tune “out” certain information. Our three, four and five-year-olds are absorbing information from everywhere, trying to connect information with experience. At age three, I must have thought you yelled when you saw a police car since I saw it on television. My mismatch of information and experience led to an embarrassing moment for my grandfather. Almost a heart attack according to him.
We can prepare our children indirectly for certain situations by giving short lessons before and after new experiences. The teachable moment is rarely the moment when something undesirable is occurring. In Monica’s situation, before gym class, she could give Danielle a lesson on “how to say no respectfully,” or a lesson on “how to do what your teacher asks.” Monica could also tell the gym teacher that she expects Danielle to follow directions and be respectful. If Danielle is disrespectful during class, she could ask the instructor to give Danielle a friendly reminder by saying, “Remember, Danielle? I am the teacher, and your mom wants you to do this cheerfully.” In some instances, removing a rebellious child may be indicated to avoid disruption of the class.
We also need to make sure we have realistic expectations for behavior. In Danielle’s gymnastic class, the instructor may not be considering the learning style of three-year-olds. There may be too much emphasis on following directions instead of exploring movement. We need to make expectations for behavior clear to both our children and the other adults in their lives.
Before entering a new situation with your child, think of the information that is necessary for a successful experience. Monica could have watched the gym class to help Danielle prepare for a new situation and visited the instructor beforehand to discuss expectations for Danielle’s behavior, along with a game plan for dealing with uncooperative behavior.
There will always be embarrassing moments with our children. Being prepared and looking for the teachable moment may lesson the sting. Perhaps we’ll also have a humorous incident to tell our grandchildren.
Next Week: How to Improve Your Child’s Memory
Kids Talk is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.
She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.shininglightreading.com for more information.
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