Child Development: The Importance of Teachable Moments

January 20, 2020

Teachable Moments are key instances throughout the life of your child when important social emotional concepts (see the five categories of social emotional learning) can be taught to your child. The trick is that they must be taught at that very moment, as waiting to talk about it until later loses the connection to the situation. 

It's important to understand that children live in the moment, in the now. If you wait to talk, your child's memory of the moment is less clear, and they aren't able to see how the lecture you're giving them relates to something that happened two hours ago that they've clearly already moved on from.

Let's say your child hits another child while at the park. You don't say anything about it until you get home about an hour later after your child has played in the sand, gone down the slide at least 30 times, you have pushed your child on the swing twice, and splashed in the puddles on the way home. Once home, your child has eaten a snack, and the two of you are now playing a game when you remember and you start talking about that time your child hit someone at the park. Your child has lived through multiple other moments since they hit the child and they are not going to be able to recall the moment  at the park properly.

As awkward as it may feel, use that moment right after your child has hit the other child to sit/squat/kneel at your child's level to talk them through what they have just done and why it's important to act differently next time, or not engage in the behaviour at all. If your child hits another child because a toy was taken away from them, take this opportunity to give them the words ("Hey! Give me back my toy!") to use next time instead of their hands. If your child randomly hits another child, use the moment to talk to them about how our hands are not for hitting, that hitting hurts, and give some examples of what they could do with their hands instead (build a sand castle, throw a ball, etc).

As your child gets older, the teachable moments you may be working with will become more complex. While a two-year-old might hit, bite, or take toys, a five-year-old might be telling another child that they are ugly or that they are going to go to their friend's house and hurt their friend's family. Where your child gets these ideas from is not important in the moment, what is important is that you step in and talk to them about empathy and what it means to be kind and care for others, and consider what it would feel like if someone said those things to them. Take the Teachable Moment by the hand and lead your child in the direction you would like them to go. You an dive into where the comments come from later on, or address it during the Teachable Moment.

If your child's behaviour reaches a point where you feel that you cannot properly help your child through it, do not hesitate to ask someone for support (including a mental health professional). As children get older and the social emotional moments that they encounter get increasingly more complicated, it can be difficult to figure out what to do to support them. There is no shame in asking for help.

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