Monday, February 4, 2008

Making the Most of "Teachable Moments"

Excerpted from: CHILDREN OF CHARACTER: Leading Your Children to Ethical Choices in Everyday Life. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D. Santa Monica,CA: Canter & Associates 1997

by Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.

One of the most important skills to nurture as a parent, is the ability to recognize and capitalize on "teachable moments" in everyday life. A teachable moment can happen almost anywhere - in the supermarket, when picking your child up from school, when walking through a shopping mall or setting the table for dinner. Chances are that many of the valuable moral lessons that you learned from your parents as a child were not consciously taught at all. They were rather learned in the midst of casual moments of real life, just as our children's real lessons come from being, living and interacting with us in a hundred different ways we could never predict in advance.

This is why an important key to teaching children ethical behavior is learning to recognize teachable moments through which your children can develop the habit of being aware of ethical challenges. For example, when you are checking out at the supermarket, and the checker inadvertently gives you too much change, or fails to charge you for an item in your cart, that is a teachable moment. As your child watches you point out the mistake or return the change, he or she learns in the most powerful way possible about honesty, integrity, good citizenship and being part of a society.

One of the most common teachable moments happens every time you drive your car with your kids inside. Think of all the lessons they are learning about life and being part the social fabric of the community just by riding in your car. You put on your seat belt, and they learn about personal responsibility and self-respect (after all, you care enough about yourself to protect your body); you let someone in to your lane on the freeway, and they learn about mutual respect for others and doing your part to help society run smoothly; you put money in the meter, stop at the stop sign and obey traffic rules and they learn about good citizenship. And imagine the lesson in caring behavior and ethics they might learn if they saw you putting money in a stranger's parking meter so that they don't get a ticket!

Home, school, work and play are all fertile ground for discovering teachable moments. If you arrive to pick up your child from school and you see a classmate's parents are late in coming, waiting with that child to be sure he or she is OK will teach your child the value of friendship, the importance of social responsibility. Of course one of the best ways to do that is to take your child along as you bring clothes to a homeless shelter, donate food to a foodbank or volunteer for community charity event. Even participating in walking precincts or making phone calls for political candidates will teach them a valuable lesson about citizenship and the importance of being part of the political process.

Finally, here are six keys to recognizing teachable moments:
  • Recognize that your children often learn moral lessons unconsciously, in casual moments.
  • Be aware of situations that represent moral choices.
  • Talk with your children about the ethical challenges represented in everyday situations, the media and popular culture.
  • Praise your children for their ethical choices.
  • Point out ethical behavior in others.
  • Let your children see your own thought processes regarding ethical decisions.

About the Author
Dr. Steven Carr Reuben is the author of CHILDREN OF CHARACTER - Leading Your Children to Ethical Choices in Everyday Life (Santa Monica, CA: Canter & Associates (800-733-1711), 1997). Dr. Reuben can be reached at 16019 Sunset Blvd. Pacific Palisades, Ca. 90272. Phone: (310) 459-2328, Fax: (310) 573-9018, or by e-mail at



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