Blowing a Teachable Moment

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

You had the perfect opportunity to teach your child an important lesson, but you blew it. Now what? Read more >

Every parent has blown a number of teachable moments. Why? Because we’re humans first and parents second. We mess up, get flooded in our emotions, and miss teachable moments.

Everyone floods at times. Researcher John Gottman says emotional flooding is when your body releases adrenaline in response to a situation: the flight, fight, or freeze action. Your heart races. Your may perspire, and your body and emotions get swamped by becoming upset. When we become flooded with emotions, it’s difficult to think well. Here’s what flooding looks like:

• You become so overwhelmed with a situation that you become shell-shocked.

• The situation was either so painful or shocking that you flood in order to avoid the situation or keep it from continuing.

• You react to a situation by flooding to protect yourself.

• You become hyper vigilant, looking for clues from the person who acts as an emotional sniper toward you. This person can be a co-worker, neighbor, spouse, or even a child.

As our kids become more independent, they discover buttons in us to push. The more sensitive the button, the more likely we are to flood.

And when we flood, we will blow a teachable moment.

Fortunately, we can create teachable moments when we blow them initially. How? By owning our experience and being honest about what happened.

Learn more about emotions and communication >

I went through a period when I was constantly blowing teachable moments my child. This teenager was constantly pushing my buttons, and we were butting heads over an issue. The issue was looking at inappropriate content on the Internet. We had Internet content blockers and parental controls on the Internet, but my son was so technically savvy (and so interested in looking at inappropriate material) that he could break through all of our technological boundaries. Every time I caught him, I became more upset, and every time I tried something new to change his behavior, he figured a new way to get back into those inappropriate web sites.

Learn more about teens and boundaries >

My anger was flooding me, and I was blowing every teachable moment. So, I decided to take advantage of my emotion. The next time I caught my son looking at inappropriate material, I burst into tears. (In the past, I had always gotten angry. Very angry.)

My son was shocked. He was expecting me to get mad, which was exactly what I had shown him every single time before this.

Even though I was crying, I was careful not to become overwhelmed with my emotion. I had figured out a way to be emotional and think at the same time. (As a parent, the more you practice this, the more you can make teachable moments even more memorable.) I had thought this situation through before I chose to act the way I did, which helped a lot because once the tears started, I could have become a blubbering parent.

Through my tears, I told my son how sad and scared I was. I talked about how too many men in our society (including teenage boys) view women as objects and as sexual play toys. I told him how I had been sexually assaulted when I was college by a date. I told him I was convinced that my date had been desensitized by looking at too much inappropriate material and buying into the cultural norms that men can take whatever they want and dominate women. I told him I wanted him to be a different kind of man, a man who valued and respected women.

My son heard me. He really heard me.

After months of the two of us butting heads and me blowing teachable moments, we both became vulnerable. I told him about a traumatic experience in my life, one that I had never told my kids about. My son was visibly shaken by my experience. He apologized.

I told my son how much I loved him and how I wanted him to grow up well. After that, our relationship shifted in a positive way and he stopped looking at inappropriate content on the Internet.

Isn’t that what teachable moments are all about?

Tell Us:——> Have you blown a teachable moment? How did you deal with it?

1. John Gottman, Ph.D. and Joan Declaire, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998).

2. John Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Crown, 1999), 34-35.

3. Image via Sleepykirn on Flick’r.


What a great example of a teachable moment! When my children were young, I remember reading that instead of acting to a situation with anger, do the opposite. When my son was teasing my daughter, instead of getting angry, my usual response, I gave him a hug and told him how much I loved him. That interaction amazingly changed his behavior. I continued to accentuate his strengths and remembered to comment on my daughter’s shortcomings.
For a related article, Effective Communicaton, see:

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