No Use Crying over Teachable Moments

As part of our attempt to be and stay healthy, we recently got one of those high-powered water toothpick thingies. We had one for years and loved it; having such clean teeth and gums gave us more energy and overall better health. Even the kids liked to use it. But over the years, it was used less and less, sitting on the counter top each day mocking us as we tried to turn our heads and avoid eye contact. Eventually we could not stand the shame and threw it out.

But we now have another. Now, while the machine itself is nice, all smooth and shiny with its variety of accouterments and appendages, the real key to whole thing is the "professional strength irrigation solution" we mix into the water, Therasol. Therasol is magical, leaving your teeth feeling clean and your gums feeling, well, REALLY clean and fresh. But Therasol comes with a price - about $27 for 16oz of concentrate, added to the water receptacle at a 1:8 ratio. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Oh God yes.

So imagine my surprise this morning when Kade showed me how he had filled up the water container with ALL of the Therasol so I could get my teeth really clean today. Ack!
Now, there was no harm done; it was fairly easy to pour the stuff back from whence it came, leaving just a little bit in the machine for daily use. But as I was doing that, I was especially proud of my reaction, which went something like this:

"Hey, thanks Kade! That was really sweet of you to do that for me, and I really appreciate it. You know what I learned the other day? I learned that this stuff is actually concentrated, kinda like the juice we buy in the metal cans in the frozen food section at the store? Have you ever seen those? Yeah, they are good. Well, just like with the juice we actually have to add a lot of water to make sure that we don't get too much of this in our mouth at once. Can you help me pour some of this back in? No? No worries . . . I've got it! Thanks, dude!"

As we were having this conversation, I was reminded of the phrase "there's no use crying over spilled milk." As parents, we always have choices. When a child spills milk, we can choose a lot of different reactions. We may get angry and decide to yell and scream, frightening and intimidating the child for their careless, wasteful behavior. We may also choose to stand over them and make them clean it up. I have to think that the only thing this leaves the child with is a sense of fear and hurt - nothing is gained, and nothing is learned except "I think I need to avoid making any more mistakes or Daddy will yell." Of course, we could also try to guilt route, and choose to moan about the inconvenience they have caused us, how now there is no milk for US, and how OUR money was just wasted all over the floor. Our kids are likely to feel shamed, saddened, and disrespected. After all, there's no milk left for them, either.

Or, we can choose peace and gratitude and understanding. When they break a window with a hockey puck, we can congratulate them on their hard shot and talk about safer places at which to shoot. When they put a fork in the microwave, we can unplug it, clear out the smoke, throw out the microwave, and then help them get that meal they were trying to make. When they wash the car with a brick (which, after all, does look a bit like a sponge), we can take the brick away and give them a sponge. And when they use all of our $28 irrigation solution, we can say "thank you" and gently put it back.

Now, you may be thinking that I am doing my kids a disservice by not at least turning these types of incidents into "teachable moments." Why not, for example, use a broken window as a way to teach my children about how glass is made and windows repaired? Why not use a nuked fork to teach them about electricity? Why not use the Therasol incident to teach them about ratios and concentrates? Those are reasonable questions. For me, though, the answer is simple. When my kids make mistakes, big or small, they DO learn - they just learn, in the main, without having to be taught. Certainly, I could teach them about glass, electricity, or the properties of a brick that makes it scratch metal. But instead of imparting the wisdom of my experience and making their every mistake into a teachable moment, I look upon their mistakes as an opportunity to learn, without expectation or condition. By approaching these situations peacefully and without my teacher hat on, they learn - all by themselves - that it is okay to make mistakes, that they will be loved unconditionally without having to be "taught" a lesson of any kind, and that their needs and feelings are respected, always and in all ways.

At the end of the day, my kids will always be able to learn about bricks and electricity and glass and concentrates; all the have to do is search Wikipedia and read away. But to learn what really matters in life - that they are valued, respected, loved, and free to experiment, all without term or condition? That's not in Wikipedia. That's in the heart of the parent, and is our gift to give.


  1. Glad you are back! Thanks you so much for the gentle reminder!

  2. nice to see you blogging again. maybe now you can do it on your terms instead of thinking you have to be the unschooling guru or something.

  3. This is a beautiful blog post. Thank you!

    "When they put a fork in the microwave, we can unplug it, clear out the smoke, throw out the microwave, and then help them get that meal they were trying to make."

    And if you put on your Mythbusters' hat, since the microwave is already no longer good for food, before throwing it out, you could also offer to put some other weird stuff in there (like a CD or an egg ... but probably not a battery!) to see what happens. Not to "teach" or "learn" anything, just to have some sizzling, kaboom fun. :-)

    One of the most important but hardest-to-change-about-myself things I've learned from reading blogs like yours and listening to other unschoolers, is to leave things be and not to try to teach my kids something all the time. They will learn. They always learn. They just may not learn, at any given moment, what the adult in the room thinks they should learn. And those so-called teachable moments usually sound something like "blah, blah, blah, blah" to the kids, anyway.

    Your child probably learned something very important, that Dad is calm and cool and won't freak out if I make a mistake. That is priceless.