Parenting

Teachable Moments

I am carrying on with the series I am doing on Fenelon’s Wisdom for “The Education of A Child” – which really covers child rearing as a whole.  Today I am really looking forward to sharing some essential concepts he brings up about discipline. He says:

It is frequently necessary to tolerate things which ought to be corrected, until the moment shall have arrived when the mind of the child will be in a state to profit by the correction. 

What he is saying here is that there are times when the “door is open” and times when it just is not.  Open for what? you may ask.  Well, if the goal of discipline is instruction so that our children will grow and make changes to poor behavior and attitudes and will choose positive ways of being, then we have to look for teachable moments.  Sometimes the child is just not open to learning.  This is not the time for “instruction.”  Any effort to discipline at times like this will fall flat, be misinterpreted or just plain agitate the situation.   I’m not just sharing theory here – I’ve checked this out in our home (unwittingly) and it’s true.


Here is one of the stick to your ribs truths I found the first time I read this book by Fenelon and it strikes me just as deeply this time through:

Never find fault with him in his first emotion, or in yours; if you do it in yours, he will perceive that you are governed by mood and impatience, and not by reason and friendship: you will lose, without resource, your authority

Ouch.

So, those times that we have “lost it” and yelled at our kids we are just modeling yuck to them, we aren’t reaching them and we are losing our authority.  I wish I could say it never had happened within the walls of this home, but it has.  And, I’m taking the wisdom from the last Fenelon post and a large measure of God’s grace to build from there.  When we mess up, we can acknowledge it to our children and tell them that with God’s help we are going to grow.  We can set ourselves as an example for them to follow.  I have been implementing a habit for some time now when I feel my blood beginning to boil.  I take myself out of the situation and go to my bedroom to pray and calm.  A wise friend told me that whatever would happen while I was gone calming couldn’t be half as bad as what might happen when I don’t.  Good word.

Fenelon goes on to say:

If you reprimand him in his first emotion, his mind will not be sufficiently free to acknowledge his fault, to subdue his passion and to weigh the importance of your advice.  … Watch for a fit moment for several successive days, if necessary, that you may properly time a correction.  Do not tell the child his fault, without adding some means by which he may get the better of it, which will encourage him to do so; for we should avoid the discouragement which arises from dry correction … and we should never tell him many [of his own faults] at a time. 

Meat, meat, meat!

So, for the sake of us remembering this well enough to put it in place, let’s digest it together.  He is saying we really ought to wait for our child to be calm enough to receive instruction.  What do we do in the meantime when our child is in the throws of a tantrum (be it at age 2 or age 12)?  Help them get back to self-control.  For my sons, I send them to their bedrooms.  If they are so worked up that they won’t go, I do state a consequence of something, “If you won’t go to your room, you will not go out to play today.”  That usually persuades them.  They merely need time to calm and get out of “fight/flight” parts of their brain.  My younger son sometimes needs comfort.  You may drop your jaw at the idea of comforting a child who is in a tantrum.  Isn’t that rewarding the tantrum?  Not really.  I am looking at the long-term goal.  I want my child rooted and grounded in love.  I am on his side, not against him.  I want to help him grow.  If he needs comfort to still himself, I give it as a way of being helpful so the ultimate goal – him being teachable enough to learn other ways – can be met.

So, we can even wait a few days to get to the teachable moment.  Be watchful for it.  Then we can bring up the fault and discuss an approach to handling the upsetment or whatever was behind the behavior.  If the child is quite young this needs to be simple and relatively close after the behavior.  The good news is that young children can change their moods more quickly than older children, so teachable moments come more frequently and more rapidly.  Then, we discuss only this one area, not a bunch.  We don’t want to discourage or overwhelm them.  We are instructing them in ways they can go and we are their coach and their loving parent as we do.  Because we are calm and our child is calm, the interaction can be so helpful.

I hope this blesses you as you look at your own home and family.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Next week I’ll be discussing Fenelon’s thoughts on how fear can hinder the discipline of our children.  Please join me. 

Photos courtesy of Bing Images

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