The Power of Teachable Moments

A trip to the zoo. A forgotten homework assignment. A gift for a homeless man. A trophy from a track meet. A lie to a parent. What do these situations have in common? They are among the numerous teachable moments that typically occur in the life of a family. Lessons about values and character sprout up continually throughout each day, and as we identify them, we can use them to teach our kids moral values. An astute parent recognizes that both pleasant situations and frustrating ones are of value when it comes to passing along a life lesson.

In the Psalms, we read David’s prayer: “Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom.” We can pray a similar prayer: “Lord, help us recognize the opportunities You give us each day to teach our kids valuable lessons, so they will grow in character, integrity, and wisdom.” Teachable moments can be far more effective than simply sitting down and discussing the importance of kindness or giving to the poor.

How do you spot a teachable moment? First pray for God’s direction. Then begin looking at each encounter and experience as an opportunity for learning. Now don’t go around making a lesson out of everything you see and do. You don’t want your kids to roll their eyes and, with exasperation, saying, “Not another lesson from Mom!” On the other hand, you do want to light a fire for learning as you spark their interest and offer wise words or important life lessons. Here are five everyday occasions that offer a lesson waiting to be taught:

  1. Going Places Together — Whenever we go somewhere together as a family—on vacation or to a local park, the zoo, a restaurant, the movies—there are opportunities for growth. Patience, self-sacrifice, an appreciation for God as our Creator, and contentment are just a few of the lessons to be learned on a family outing.
  2. Mistakes — We grow and learn from the “oops” in life. Forgetting, misjudging, or miscalculating can be frustrating and painful, but those times do offer lessons to be learned. We learn, first, that no one is perfect—not us nor anyone we are around. We also learn the importance of forgiveness toward others (because we need it ourselves), being careful, taking responsibility, and not rushing through a task. When your kids make a mistake, remind them that everyone makes mistakes. Help them see how they can do things differently next time. Most importantly, try to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their mistakes so they learn from them. From forgotten homework they learn responsibility. From a bad decision they learn to think more carefully next time. Each of us can grow wiser from the times we stumble and fall and pick ourselves up again.
  1. People in Need — What do you do when you see someone holding out a hand begging for money or food? Do you pass by shaking your head, or do you use it as a teachable moment?  You may want to buy some food for the person and even have a conversation. You can teach your kids loving-kindness when you reach out and care for another human being who is hurting. And it’s not just the homeless who have needs. A friend may have lost a loved one or experienced a personal struggle. Teach your children how to reach out in compassion to a hurting friend by first joining in prayer for that person and then by talking together as a family about how you can best meet the needs. Finally, allow your kids to participate in the help, thereby giving them hands-on experience in caring for others.
  2. Wins and Losses — When our children don’t perform as well as they’d like and struggle with the pain (whether in sports, piano competition, or grades in school), we can make these teachable moments. First allow your children to grieve and cry over the loss, but eventually help them discover something they can learn from the situation. The lesson may be as basic as we will not win or come out on top in every situation in life. There may be lessons to learn about forgiveness, dealing with anger or jealousy, or creative ways to do things differently next time. Winning can present growth opportunities as well. Lessons about being gracious and thoughtful of the other contestants can be prompted by a win, as well as lessons in pride versus humility and in thanking God for the abilities and talents He has provided.
  3. Discipline — It may seem like a negative setting for a teachable moment, but we can’t overlook the opportunity to teach and train our children whenever we must discipline them. When our child is caught in a lie or untruth, we have the occasion to teach the importance of honesty. When our kids disobey, we help them learn the responsibility of obedience not only through our punishment but also with our words. When a son or daughter speaks disrespectfully either to you or to another person, it is your chance to teach about respect and kindness. Don’t look at disciplining your child as a pain-in-the-neck. Instead see it as an opportunity to help your child learn important life lessons.

Martin Luther said, “Family life is a school for character.” Consider every occasion in your family’s life together as a great occasion to teach your children values and character. And the more undistracted time you spend hanging out with your kids, the more you can take advantage of these moments. Never underestimate the power of the precious time you spend together and of the teaching opportunities that will emerge.

What are some of your favorite teachable moments?

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:11–14 NIV

Excerpted from Karol’s book, Bright Ideas for Busy Moms.