Parenting with Scripture
A TOPICAL GUIDE FOR TEACHABLE MOMENTS
By Kara Durbin
Copyright © 2012 Kara Durbin
All right reserved.
Chapter One Teachable Moments
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Teachable moments are any time that you use situations to dialogue with your child about what's going on—what he or she has seen, heard, or done. As this passage from Deuteronomy describes, teachable moments can be any time you and your child are together.
Christian poll master George Barna's research echoes the scriptural definition: "We have found that most children learn through experiences—either having an eye-opening lesson or having a previously grasped lesson clarified and reinforced."
Have you ever been sitting with the family watching a movie or TV show when all of a sudden, something happens onscreen that you wish your child hadn't seen or heard? Sometimes it is more appropriate not to make a big deal of it and hope the questionable content goes over the child's head. However, if you do discuss the issue right away or follow up later, you are making use of a teachable moment.
Where Do I Look for Teachable Moments?
Once you put yourself on the lookout for teachable moments, you'll find them everywhere! Here are a few of the most common ways that teachable moments arise.
1. Media. In our media-saturated culture, you'll find teachable moments on TV shows and commercials, in the movies, on the Internet, in music, in video games, in magazines, and on billboards.
When my kids were younger, we were watching an episode of Superwhy, when one of the show's characters was afraid to go down a slide. The question posed to the characters and the viewers was, "How do we help someone who is afraid?" The answer given by the show was to "cheer" for their friend. This turned into a great discussion later that day as we drove home from the dentist. We talked about how cheering is a great idea, but as Christians there are other ways we can help, such as praying for our friend or encouraging him with what the Bible says.
I reminded the children of some helpful verses by prompting them with the beginnings of these verses and they filled in the rest. We quoted Psalm 56:3, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you," and Philippians 4:13, which says, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
I remember wishing that the discussion had come up on the way to the dentist because my poor little guy had been terrified of getting in the dentist's chair for his checkup. His big sis did a great job cheering him on since that was fresh in her memory from watching the show, but it would have been neat to see how she used the biblical input from that teachable moment in that situation.
Families with older children or teens will want to help them think critically from a biblical perspective about what they take in through the media. See the Take Action section under the topic Revenge for a good example.
2. Situations with Siblings or Friends. There is no doubt a number of teachable moments can arise when a family has only one child. But as soon as others—siblings or friends—are added into the equation, it creates the potential for conflict. Seize these moments as opportunities to teach. Being consistent in this area takes a big investment of time on the front end, but the payoff comes as you see your child beginning to handle situations more appropriately.
One way of handling conflict as a teachable moment is through role-playing. This was instrumental in my family one summer as we prepared for the new school year. I recalled areas of conflict that had come up in the past couple of school years. Rather than mentioning them specifically, I tossed out similar scenarios by asking the children, "What would you do if someone carne up and told you something negative about someone else?" or, "What is a kind way of treating someone who really annoys you?" or, "What do you do if you are tempted to be disruptive in class rather than listening?" These questions generated great discussions and helped our year start off on a positive note. You can kick the teaching up a notch by praying over the topics and integrating Scripture that fits them.
Your children can also learn from the mistakes of others. As you observe situations, you can ask your child, "What might be a better way to handle that problem?" or, "What would you have done differently?" Talking through scenarios equips your child with the know-how to deal with the situation better if it ever happens to him. Wouldn't we all rather spare ourselves the pain of negative consequences by considering ahead of time what we could do differently? This method of using teachable moments will become increasingly important as your child gets older and the consequences of problematic behavior become more serious and harmful (such as drugs, smoking, premarital sex, and so on).
Most older children tend to try to one-up each other—not a good habit for interacting with people in general. For this situation, my go-to verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:11: "Encourage one another and build each other up." When my kids begin to one-up each other, I remind them that they are both good at different things and urge them, in light of this piece of God's Word, to turn the conversation more positively.
Anywhere there are two people, teachable moments will appear!
3. Car Time. When my nieces were growing up, my sister-in-law used to say she might as well wallpaper the minivan to beautify and personalize a space where she spent so much time! Most parents spend a lot of time getting the kids everywhere they need to go. Why not make use of the time when they're buckled into the family vehicle to create teachable moments?
You might pull a discussion topic from what you see out the window, like litter lining the road. You can use that moment to talk with your children about how God made the earth and wants us to take care of it. Part of that means not littering. Young children may not even know the term litter, so it's a perfect opportunity to broaden their vocabulary by explaining the meaning. You might bring in a verse such as John 1:3, "All things were made by him" (KJV).
This captive-audience teaching time is especially effective for older children and teens, as it offers the opportunity to pose moral questions like, "What do you do if someone asks to copy your homework?" or, "What do you think God has to say about that?" Try to think of some related verses or refer to this book when you get home.
4. Positive Moments. It feels quite natural to use the times when negative behaviors appear for teaching times. Of course it is necessary to address those areas and teach the child what is right and wrong. But all too often we leave the focus there even though children and youth respond very well to praise. Sometimes a shift in focus from hounding on the negative to reinforcing the positive will produce a healthy change. Even children who are well-behaved most of the time need to be encouraged by affirmation of their good habits, such as affirming honesty or kindness.
5. Create Your Own. Creating teachable moments is the most fun because it works from the front end before a problem arises.
When my children were preschoolers, I would prepare them for a playdate by saying something like, "Does God want us to share? Yes, He does! Remember that God's Word, the Bible, says, 'Do not forget to do good and to share with others.' Can you remember that when we're playing today? Let's pray and ask God to help you remember to share" (Hebrews 13:16).
As my kids grew older and I was sending them off into a day when I knew things might not go exactly the way they'd like, I'd remind all of us that God wants us to "do everything without complaining or arguing" (Philippians 2:14). We'd also pray for God to help us avoid complaining and arguing during the day. Then, when need be, we could remind each other throughout the day to "try again" with more positive wording, tone, or attitude. We'd prepped our hearts by creating a teachable moment at the start of the day.
6. Find the Right Time. If you're zooming down the highway when a teachable moment occurs, you obviously can't whip out your Bible or flip through a reference book to search for a Scripture that meets the situation. Discuss it as you're able, but make a mental note to revisit the issue and follow up with Scripture later that evening or the next day. It's fine to extend the teachable moment, and the extra time can help you search God's Word or consider how to talk about a subject with your child.
Sometimes when conflicts come up, you or your child may be too worked up emotionally to discuss it right away. Or there may be other people around who don't need to be present for your discussion. There can be good reasons to stretch the teachable moment and delay.
One afternoon after church, our family shared a barbecue lunch with friends from our small group. There was a girl in the group just a bit older than my daughter and another just a bit younger. My daughter, naturally, looked up to that older one. But things took a negative turn as I noticed her begin to ignore the younger one, a girl she normally loved and enjoyed. Selfishly, she wanted all the attention of that older girl, to the detriment of her younger dear friend.
Aha! A Teachable Moment!
When we got settled back at home, I took the opportunity to discuss the issue gently with my daughter. Older children respond well to questions, which allow them to figure things out on their own. It also helps keep the discussion from becoming a parent lecture. Here are some of the questions I asked my daughter to help us discuss what had happened.
Do you think you were a good friend to (the younger girl) today?
What did you do that was unfriendly to her?
Remember that the Bible says, "A friend loves at all times" (Proverbs 17:17). Do you think your young friend felt she was loved today?
How do you think she felt? How would you have felt?
One of our other verses says, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). Would you want to be treated the way you treated your friend today?
Let's talk about different ways we could have handled the situation. You wanted to sit by two older friends, but your younger friend wanted to sit by you. What could you have said that would be nice? (If the child can't come up with a good response, you might suggest one.) How about, "Thanks for wanting to sit by me! I like sitting by you, too. Here's a round table so we call can sit together."
Our finish for this teachable moment was to pray together, asking God to help my daughter to be the kind of friend who "loves at all times" and treats others the way she would like to be treated.
My talk with my daughter sounds perfectly scripted, but I assure you it was normal give-and-take, with the bumps and imperfections of normal conversation. And we didn't get out the Bible that time because I was reminding her of verses we had already memorized. Don't get bogged down in trying to make your wording perfect. Pray that God will help you as teachable moments come up. Then however it comes out will be perfect.
As you go through your days, look for opportunities to turn situations into teachable moments and teachable moments into godly living because "faith without deeds is dead" (James 2:26).
How Do I Find and Use Scriptures in Teachable Moments?
Once you begin, you'll find it easy to determine a topic or key word for situations that arise. To practice, read the following true story and think about what you might have done in the situation and what topic or key word you would use to describe the behavior.
Siblings Will and Caroline were at home playing one summer morning. Will, being a pesky big brother, filled a cup with hot water, told Caroline it was cold water, and suggested she stick her hand in it. Caroline was busy with her own toys and was not interested in doing what Will demanded. So Will grabbed her hand and stuck it in the hot water. Caroline screamed—more from surprise than from pain. Their mother came running, calmed Caroline down, and sent Will to his room after he confessed what he'd done. Then she took a few minutes to think about how to address the situation. She decided to turn to this book to help her find applicable verses.
If you were the mother of Will and Caroline, what topic or key word would help you classify the negative behavior? Try paging through the book for a topic that fits. The one Caroline's and Will's mom found was Crafty, because, she said, it came first alphabetically as she flipped the pages of the book. Others you might have considered are trust, honesty, or meanness. In this case, the mom was able to use Proverbs 14:17, which says "a crafty man is hated," to explain to Will the damage his behavior can do to his relationship with his sister or other children.
You can apply Scripture in your teachable moments in several ways.
1. Discuss. Talk about the verse that you find under your chosen topic, clarifying any words a child may not know. For example, what if crafty Will thought his mom was talking about fun art projects (crafts) while she thought they were having an excellent discussion about being sly or tricking others? He could have totally missed her point.
Young children especially need the visual reinforcement of seeing you turn to Scripture for wisdom. So, even if you're using a resource such as Parenting with Scripture to find verses, try always to switch to your own Bible or your child's Bible whenever you are actually reading the verse to your child. This visually reinforces the truth that this wisdom comes from God and not from some lady named Kara Durbin!
You'll find that sometimes you can use verses positively to address a negative behavior. When a friend's daughter was two-and-a-half or three and struggling with tantrums, my friend often leaned on Proverbs 17:22: "A cheerful heart is good medicine." This mom found that it helped her daughter focus on the choice to be cheerful. Once the child was calm enough to talk with her mom, this mom would say, "I know it upsets you that _____, but throwing a fit or pouting is not the best way to respond." And then she'd prompt her daughter with what the Bible says: "A cheerful heart is _____?" And her daughter would respond, "Good medicine." Sometimes this mom would point out the contrast between a cheerful heart and a grumpy one, asking, "What kind of attitude makes us feel better?" Once her daughter remembered that throwing a fit does more harm than good, this mother would pose the choice: "Which kind of attitude do you choose to have?"
It's a joy to be part of the process when a child makes a connection between life and God's Word. Another friend of mine who had been teaching her children that "love is kind," was delighted to hear her three-year-old say, "Mommy, I thought of what my brother would want first. I was kind!" Transformation by God's truth in our lives is the ultimate goal of these teachable moments.
2. Pray. Pray using the Scriptures. Many verses lend themselves naturally to prayer. For example, under the topic word Crafty, you'll find Psalm 119:29: "Keep me from deceitful ways." After you've read God's Word and explained the version, reword it to pray something like, "Lord, please help keep Will from being crafty or mean. Thank You that You forgive us when we do wrong." A section on praying God's Word for your children appears at the end of this book.
3. Memorize. Especially if your teachable moment applies to a pattern of behavior more than a single incident, you and your child may want to consider committing a related verse to memory. Then, when the issue arises again, God's Word will already be handy, on your heart. God's Word is powerful and can help change behavior (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12).
I've selected fifteen verses that apply to numerous teachable moments and included them at the end of this book, along with tips for memorizing God's Word. You and your kids will never regret hiding His Word in your heart (Psalm 119:11).
4. Underline. It's meaningful to underline an applicable verse in the Bible and write the topic word beside it. Here's one more reason you will want to give your child a complete Bible at an early age. Even pre-readers can recognize chapter and verse numbers and will enjoy seeing Scriptures they have learned about underlined or highlighted.
Excerpted from Parenting with Scripture by Kara Durbin Copyright © 2012 by Kara Durbin. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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