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My Kid Stole a Candy Bar...Now What?!

I am what my family and I fondly refer to as a “warm and fuzzy,” as are my mother and sisters. We use this to refer to our loving, positive, affectionate approach to relationships with our kids as well as our students. Though this comes naturally to me, the belief is that all kids need to experience unconditional love to become who they really are. Who they came here to be. They need to be given the space to make mistakes so they can learn from them. Often, we become embarrassed by “mistakes” that our children or students make. A young child pockets gum or a candy bar because they don’t understand the concept of money. Or maybe they do, but they don’t yet understand the concept of consequences of stealing. We drag them back inside to the cashier, red faced with embarrassment and thinking the cashier will judge the incident as a reflection of our parenting.

Now, let’s take that same scenario and reframe it to look at it from the perspective that there are no mistakes. You’re unloading your groceries into your car and you notice your child holding a candy bar that you know you didn’t pay for. Quell your initial embarrassment. This isn’t about you. This is a teachable moment. Ask your child why they took it. Why did they hide it? Did they understand that it was wrong? Now that they understand, rather than dragging them inside crying and demanding they apologize, assess how well your child understands what you’re teaching them. Turn it back to them. Ask, “what do you think we should do now?” Gently guide them to the conclusion that it should be returned. When teachable moments arrive, we need to really challenge ourselves to seize those moments and start shaping our tiny humans into the best version of themselves.

One of the most difficult obstacles to calm and consistent parenting is the concept of judgement. There are a million judgements we make about moms. Breastfeeding moms vs. formula moms. To co-sleep, or not to co-sleep. Ferberize? Organic. Pro Vaccine. Anti-vaccine. Circumcision. Uncut. We have become so vocal about our criticisms of parent’s choices that our society is ingrained and driven to “side” with certain categories and dismiss whose who choose differently as “wrong” or “uninformed.” What would change for you what would your parenting look like if you owned your choices and freed yourself of the weight of others’ opinions? Let’s return to the mother at the grocery store. She calmly guides her child to the conclusion that taking the candy takes money away from another family, and so the right thing to do is return it. She holds her child’s hand, returns to the cashier and the child hands over the candy bar. The mother says, “My child put this is their pocket. I explained that taking this without paying for it means we’re taking resources from another family.” Turning to her child, she asks, “Do you want to say anything?” Now the child can choose to say sorry. Or not. That wasn’t today’s lesson. Today’s lesson was about not taking things from your neighbor. In an effort to mold our children into perfect, polite, societally acceptable children, sometimes we try to do too much at once with a teachable moment. Take a breath, reflect, and decide what you want that lesson to be so you can be a responsive parent, rather than a reactive one.

Now, the educator in me needs to go through a similar example with a student. Unfortunately, the way our teachers are evaluated today is punitive and often feels the equivalent of putting on a dog and pony show so we can check the required boxes. The evaluations put pressure on the teacher who, in turn, puts pressure on the students. Whether they verbally pressure students to perform well or just give off nervous and anxious energy, students understand their performance during observation has an impact on their teacher’s careers, especially newer teachers that are working towards tenure.

So, during an observation, a student raises their hand and answers incorrectly. Now, just like that mom in the grocery store, the teacher can worry and react as if that’s a reflection of her teaching or she can take this as a teachable moment and an opportunity to better understand the learning habits of her student. Interactions between a teacher and their students are incredibly important and, in my opinion, should be weighted much more heavily. So, let’s assume the teacher takes a breath, calms her nerves, and focuses on the student. She uses questioning techniques to see how the student arrived at their conclusion and where they needed some clarification to better understand the concept. The judgement is no longer on the horror of a student giving the wrong answer, but instead, on how the teacher formatively assessed the student’s understanding, met them at that level, and moved them forward.

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