Teachable Moments

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about teaching firearms safety, safety and self-defense to kids. I’m working on some stuff specifically about teaching gun safety and shooting to kids, but it’s also important to me that my daughter learn the skills of personal safety and awareness.

Nutmeg is almost 17 and she’s at that age where she finds sport in calling me an “old lady”. (I’m on the near side of 40, though barely, and this seems terribly old to her). So, she’s not yet learned the lesson that kids seem to forget between the ages of 12 and 25: namely, that the way Mom survived to be “an old lady” is because she actually knows stuff.

Because of this, Nutmeg tends to be impatient when she perceives that I’m “teaching” her stuff. She’ll say things like, “I have to listen to blah-blah-blah all day at school; I don’t want to listen to it at home too.” If she’s feeling especially flippant, she’lll say “learning stuff causes cancer.” There’s no question Nutmeg is growing up to be a spirited young lady, which is a good thing, but which means Mom has to be a bit cleverer about taking “teachable moments” where I can find them.

Take tonight, for example. After dinner, Nutmeg and I decided to go for a walk around our neighborhood. Even though it wasn’t quite dark yet, I had my flashlight in my hand (as I almost always do when I’m walking). We walked down the street, chatting about her day, her classmates, the boys who she likes at school – good quality mother/daughter time that’s been rare for us lately on account of Nutmeg’s mental illness (the product of trauma in her birth family). As always, I was in a relaxed state of alertness while we talked. I walked away the curb, while Nutmeg trailed a bit to the left and behind me.

Suddenly, I stopped and crossed in front of her. With my body, I gently guided her a bit farther from the curb edge. “Why’d you do that for?” Nutmeg demanded. I looked at her and asked, “What do you notice right now?” Nutmeg’s survival impulse in her birth family was to zone out the things that happened to her, so awareness is a huge challenge for her. Predictably, she responded, “huh? Nothing?”

I watched as a battered sedan passed us and turned right at the end of the block. “Did you see that car?” I asked her. “I noticed it sitting at the curb with two guys inside and the engine running.” I smiled at her. “I’m sure they were just minding their own business, but do you see those parked cars there and the trees?” I pointed with my flashlight. “Just in case those men were up to no good, I wanted to make sure we had a way to move farther away from the road without getting stuck between them and the trees.”

“Ohhh,” Nutmeg said, after a moment. “So what you’re telling me is those guys got ‘in your bubble’ and you wanted to give them some space?”

I beamed at her. “Exactly!” I said. “And that’s why I’m always looking around when we walk, so I can see what else is getting ‘in my bubble’.” It was an important lesson, and I thought Nutmeg got it, so we left it there. The rest of the way home, I listened as she talked about a classmate of hers who’s planning to get a piercing in a place that both fascinates and horrifies her. (The less said about where, the better.)

See, that’s the thing about teaching. We can impart the gifts of awareness and confidence in our kids without having to turn it into big huge “lessons” or “lectures”. A few well-chosen sentences here and there when those “teachable moments” arise can pay huge dividends for our kids down the line. And the beauty is, teachable moments are everywhere when we live in Condition Yellow. We don’t have to wait for things that trigger our “Spidey sense” to impart those lessons, and if we do it skillfully, our oh-so-hip, oh-so-cool kids might not even realize they’re learning. But they are, and the skills they’re absorbing may save their lives someday.

So, what was the last teachable moment you had with your kids? What lessons do you try to impart this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Photo credit: stock.xchg


  1. I didn’t have normal teachable moments like that when my kids were young. I had a pretty persistant stalker, so they got lectured a lot. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), they were with me through the stalking and understood how important it is to listen and pay attention. I would say that my kids live in Condition Yellow without even realizing that’s where they are. They’re pretty good at listening to their gut and being aware of what’s going on around them – a product of being “hunted”. (<- that's how they remember the stalking)

    • Wow – sounds like you and your kids got a bit of a trial by fire with the stalker. I know how scary those are – we had a cyber stalker a couple of years ago, and though they never did anything except make threats, the amount of information they were able to unearth and incorporate into their threats was thoroughly terrifying. Not an experience I’d want to go through again, to say the least. (And that experience STILL didn’t help A. see the wisdom of self-defense, which boggles my mind, but that’s another story.)

  2. Persistence is a great teaching tool. Soft, gentle, direct – eventually bits and pieces stick and grow. We have strong willed kids, a son and a daughter. Both now out on their own. Our son engaged to a strong woman who really needed a tender mate. Mike will provide that. Chrissy is beginning to learn the power of the “mother’s curse” – entertaining beyond words!! 🙂 Sounds like you’re doing great – enjoy!

    • It’s funny sometimes, the bits that stick, isn’t it? I used a parenting technique called “love and logic” when Nutmeg was younger – basically, empathizing with the kid’s problem and empowering them to solve it for themselves. One day, we were in a parking lot and had to slam on the brakes – causing six pints of strawberries to upend themselves all over the floor. Nutmeg looked at me with a wicked gleam in her eye, and the conversation went like this:NM: Gee, Tammy, that’s so sad for you that the strawberries spilled. What could you do better next time?T: (thinking “Uh oh”) Umm…I guess I could put them on the floor so they don’t spill if we have to stop suddenly. NM: (with a broad grin) That’s a GREAT idea! Let me know how that works out for you. It was on that day that I learned two things: That Nutmeg WAS paying attention after all, and precisely what the phrase “payback’s a bitch” means. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Cindy says:

    To some this may sound crazy but I have had numerous occasions when an “audible voice” told me to do or not do something. One such example was one night I went to get my daughter from the neighbors house when it was getting late. As I went to cross the street I noticed a truck pull onto our street & immediately “sensed” something not right about the vehicle, my dog had followed me out of the fence & I quick went to put her back. That’s when I was told sternly & urgently, “get Laine” and “hurry”, when I got back to the front this truck had pulled up to my daughter who was at the curb, I ran across the street & called out to her & the driver quickly drove off. The truck was battered and there were no back plates. When I asked my daughter what the driver wanted she told me he asked her where the nearest gas station was. The street he was on before he pulled onto ours had a large grocery store which he had to have passed and a block further up he would’ve found a gas station. This man was not looking for gas. It frightened me enough that I enrolled my 9 yr. old daughter in self defense classes.
    I believe that when we are born God assigns us a guardian angel, whether it was my angel that warned me or her angel that protected her, 20 years later I still remind her of that night & how she needs to always be aware of her surroundings, go with her senses and if an “audible voice” goes off inside her head? Listen.

    • One of the things I’ve learned from Gavin de Becker’s book is that inner voice – our intuition – senses a great many things in our environment that our conscious minds never perceive. That’a why learning to trust our intuition is so very important. De Becker says that the voice of our intuition is always responding to SOMETHING when we hear it, and it’s always acting in our best interests. It may respond to a harmless trigger, but it’s always best not to ignore it without figuring out what triggered it. It sounds like you and your daughter have learned that lesson well, and I’d argue it’s the most important lesson to keep us safe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s