“When you learn, teach.” Maya Angelou
This was a tough parenting week. This week presented challenges as a parent where the lesson learned will eventually come to the children, and certainly has been learned by the parent, but it is too soon for it to take root. However the questions that manifested from the ashes of the challenges have been something to really ponder and discuss to conclusion. The most powerful question to come out of this tough challenge in parenting has been, “How can we as parents, as adults, as grown-ups recognize a teachable moment for the sake of our children?
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes our kids or our neighbor’s kids push our buttons and we blank out on the fact that they are children in need of learning all kinds of lessons. Somehow we just react instead of taking a much needed deep breath before we speak. Knee-jerk reactions are normal but not always wise.
“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider
My youngest son encountered hate this week from his football coach. The story is actually not relevant. The questions come from how the coach handled a teaching moment or in this case didn’t handle a teaching moment. The coach got in my son’s face, the coach used adjectives and voice tone and body language that did not demonstrate good communication skills but instead demonstrated an abuse of his position as an authority figure, as a coach and as one of his classroom teachers. His actions were full of hate, anger, frustration and just plain poison. Where does the line get drawn for an adult who is not the parent to act as if he/she were the parent or to give themselves permission to act with even more authority?
As a parent my first reaction was to defend and protect my son. I listened to the story from my son’s point of view and realized that I have to know when to just listen and when to lend voice to how I was feeling. All I could do was write a letter. I didn’t send the letter but I needed to write down my feelings. I needed to get out how this whole situation could have been handled so much more diplomatically and so much more sympathetically had this coach, teacher, role model and adult been able to step outside of himself and look at what happened from a 16 year old point of view. Isn’t point of view (perspective) one of the first steps toward empathy?
As a parent with a child at this precarious age I have to learn and know when to step in and most of all when to step back and let my child start to handle things for himself. He has to be able to know deep inside that he can handle confrontation with adults, with anyone, in a mature, respectable, well thought out manner. He has to know the steps involved in how to respect everyone as human beings and then also those people that play significant roles in our lives, whether permanently or temporarily. He has to try on the clothes of the adult he hopes to be one day and although the clothes may not fit well right now he can become familiar with how they make him feel and he can foresee his future self wearing them very well.
There are steps we can all take to put us in the frame of mind to create teachable moments. Here are a few:
1- If you are dealing with a child smaller than you, first get down to their level, eye to eye, so that in the first place you are not abusing your taller position and causing the child to look way up at you and second so that what you are about to say becomes more powerful for them. If the child is a teenager like my son and tall like he is, sit down somewhere with that child. That act alone creates mindful space, respectable space for both of you and diffuses the tension immediately. With diffused tension, you as the adult can think more purposefully and more clearly to create the words that help form the teachable moment. Physically changing your own literal point of view puts you in a unique position of trying to see things from the other person’s point of view. This is the cornerstone of empathy.
“We begin to learn wisely when we’re willing to see world from other people’s perspective.”
Toba Beta, Master of Stupidity
2- Look the child directly in the eye and take a deep breath or two before speaking. Taking those nanoseconds to breathe helps gather your thoughts.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Stepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices
3- Start talking with your heart not your head. Even if there is a specific lesson to teach, your tone will convey the seriousness but your actions will convey the respect of each position in the relationship.
“Action expresses priorities.”
4- Speak clearly. Speak purposefully, and speak with all the authority you have been given for the role you play in that child’s life. Respect the role you play. Don’t be the parent for that child if you are the coach or the teacher, unless you have been given permission to play the role of parent either by another important adult in that child’s life or by the child himself/herself.
“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”
5- Make sure there is follow through with what you are trying to teach. Is there a way to physically show the lesson trying to be taught? Actions speak louder than words. Get the child in touch with the action as often as possible. The lesson will have a lot more meaning. Make sure you validate respect for your own position but also for the fact that you understand that children make mistakes and that this is the time of their lives to make those mistakes and ultimately to learn from them. Make sure the child understands that the possibility exists that you were put in his/her life to help them learn a lesson.
“Wisdom equals knowledge plus courage. You have to not only know what to do and when to do it, but you have to also be brave enough to follow through.”
Jarod Kintz, $3.33
6- Remember above all else that you are not to sit in judgment. We all make mistakes, even as adults, no one is perfect. You are not G-d, you are not the jury. You are the example, the role model. You have the most important position of all to be able to influence this human being in the most uplifting and life changing way possible. The power you hold should only be used for good. Be careful with your words. Sticks and stones may very well break their bones but your words will sink inside forever. How do you want to be remembered by this person?
“The questions that we must ask ourselves, and that our historians and our children will ask of us, are these: How will what we create compare with what we inherited? Will we add to our tradition or will we subtract from it? Will we enrich it or will we deplete it?”
7- If you cannot find it in yourself to address the child directly and in the moment, tell the child that you need time to reflect and that you have every intention to address this situation with him/her as soon as you get clear with what you want to say. Take a day or just an overnight and write a letter. Get out all of your feelings on paper. Don’t send the letter unless it is your exact intention to do so. Re-read the letter over and over. Rehash the incident inside of your gut, your brain, your heart and come to terms with the words. If you don’t send the letter allow that the space you have just created for yourself to deal with the emotions can now create a teachable moment. Use the power you just created from your words and teach. You have an obligation to take what you have learned and teach the lesson.
“Each life experience poses this question: how do you want to be changed because of me?”
This all led me to think about how the football coach did not even attempt to find balance between my son’s actions and the hateful words and tone he used. There was no follow through; there was no calmness on another day to create another possible opportunity for a teachable moment. The football coach just let the hate sit in the air and in my son’s brain. It made for difficult learning when my son then had to sit in the coach’s classroom and respect this authority figure as his teacher as well.
This situation led me to ask:
Just how many hateful words are there that a balance can’t be found to exemplify right from wrong in any situation? Furthermore, I chose to break this thought down into 4 letter words. How many 4 letter hate words are there versus 4 letter kindness words?
It turns out that there are an abundance of 4 letter kindness words that outweigh the hate words almost 2-1.
Here is my challenge to you:
1- How many 4 letter kindness words can you think of and then use in the course of your week?
2- How many teachable moments can you create with the use of kindness words?
3- How can you pit the kindness words against the hate words so that it creates feelings that will empower you and your child and move you both forward toward goodness?
There will always be ugly days and ugly feelings but how we balance and combat those days and feelings can be empowered immediately with the armor we learn to use in kindness. Here is a little list to get you started:
Love/hate, kind/mean, hero/fool, goal/fail, will/weak… Good luck. Share with me your teachable moments and the words that empowered those moments.