One of the many benefits of spending a lot of time with our kids is that we are there when teachable moments naturally arise. We can rarely, if ever, create these. They normally occur as part of life. When we are not only physically present to witness them, but have a mindset to make the most of them, these moments are tremendous teaching opportunities to shape character in our kids.
I shared last week about the now famous toothpaste-squeezing incident, as I refer to it, when I taught my boys how hurtful angry words and hitting can be. This week, I’ll tell you about another where I used a teachable moment to try to shape greater honesty in one of my boys.
That teachable moment arose when I caught one of my boys in an obvious lie. The circumstances of the lie are not important, but how we handled it might provide a learning opportunity. I learned about my son lying to me about something he had done. I talked with him about it. I knew that simply confronting him with the evidence may elicit a confession—what else could he do at that point—but I was afraid he wouldn’t learn anything if I handled this in such a direct and confrontational manner. Instead, I said to him, “Son, I want to ask you about this. And I want you to tell me the truth. I know that it’s hard to tell the truth when you’re afraid you’ll be punished. So, this one time, I want you to know I am not going to punish you if you did what I think you may have done. Got it. No consequences this time. I just want you to practice telling me the truth.”
I described what had happened, and I asked him, “Son, did you do this? Remember, what’s most important to me at the moment is your character, not whether or not you did this thing. I want all my boys to grow up to be honest truth-tellers. I know I need to train you to do that. So, don’t be afraid of being punished. You will not be this time. I want to know that you are able to tell the truth, to own what you did, to take responsibility for your actions. Son, did you do this?”
He looked at me for a long moment, I suspect partially trying to figure out if I was serious—could he trust me to keep my word not to punish him—and partially in disbelief that he could confess and get away with this. I asked him again, “Son, I want you to be honest and tell me, did you do this?”
He lowered his eyes from mine, looked down at the floor, and meekly said, “Yes, I did.”
Now, the moment of truth. I said, “Son, look at me.” He looked into my eyes. I said, “I’m so proud of you. You told me the truth. That’s what I want to see grow in you, the character quality of honesty—the ability to speak the truth no matter what. Fantastic. Just as I promised, you will not be disciplined, this time.” I hugged him to assure him of my love for him. Then I looked into his eyes and again affirmed him for telling the truth. He apologized, on his own, and then thanked me.
I hope the way I handled that one taught him something more than discipline would have in that moment. But I only thought of this because I ask myself in every situation I can, How can I shape character through what just took place? When I focus on that as the goal, I tend to think a bit more creatively than simply reacting in the moment with discipline for the behavior or the words.
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