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The Myth Of The Teachable Moment – Karen Maezen Miller

by Karen Maezen Miller: Teachable moment – a learning opportunity for a child to acquire new information, values, morals, a new behavior or a new skill, or a new way of expressing and coping with an emotion…


I’m a failure at teachable moments. By that I mean I’m a failure at teachingteachable moments. I’m so lousy at teachable moments that I’m declaring myself an official dropout. I don’t know how to teach a moment when the moment is always teaching me. What the moment teaches me is to accept.

In truth, my heart abandoned the endeavor once I got a good whiff of the notion that whatever moment our kids are having isn’t quite enough. Not instructive enough, powerful enough, or motivating enough. The concept that what life needs is a lab assistant – me – someone to add and extract value from the raw materials. Someone to turn the crank, press the button, squeeze the lemon and add sugar. The moment I bailed on teachable moments may well have been my first successful teachable moment.

Don’t get me wrong. If my daughter asks me a question, I answer. If she comes to me to talk, I listen. That’s never a problem.

The problem is only when something happens that I don’t like or want.

Let’s look closely at what it is we’re supposed to be teaching. No one is telling us to teach our way through the easy times. We’re talking about teaching our way around what we don’t like: disappointment, sadness, jealousy, and frustration, for starters. We’re trying to teach our kids out of what they are momentarily feeling, thinking and doing, or at least I am, every time I am confronted with what someone tells me is a teachable moment.

When the children are little, many of these so-called opportunities arise from that elusive morality of “sharing.” When our little kids don’t share – and they don’t – we are mortified. Shouldn’t we be teaching them how to be nice right this moment while I’m standing here mortified? I could never make that work.

These uncomfortable moments might be triggered by loss and frustration. When our kids cry and pout over their disappointments, especially in public, we are humiliated. Shouldn’t we be teaching how to get over it right this moment while I’m standing here humiliated? Can’t claim I ever have.

Moments already have a way of imparting life skills. It’s called the hard way, and it happens to be the only way. Life is the teacher itself. Every single moment – high, low, happy, sad, kind, angry – is the teacher. Learning to trust the lessons takes time, more time than we think we have, and more time than we feel able to give. Few of us have mastered our lives, and the lessons keep mounting moment after moment, until there’s no more time left to learn.

I have vowed to use my time to change my own perspective. And so, every moment is my teacher, especially the ones I don’t like and can’t change.

Recently my daughter was grievously disappointed at the outcome of a competition. You know: the kind that other people win and you lose. She was inconsolable at the irreversibility of the outcome. I had to keep reminding myself that it had happened to her and not to me. It was hard to watch her carry on, but it only lasted a short while past the point of my intolerance. (During this period, someone suggested to me that it was a teachable moment.) Believe me, I wanted to talk some sense into her. But no one has ever been able to disabuse me of my own thoughts and feelings, and there’s no reason for me to think I can do it to her. So instead of trying to teach her about how to handle the disappointment, I waited and then asked what she had learned from it.

“I’ve learned it takes more practice,” she said. Teaching me the same.

Source: Karen Maezen Miller


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