Toddler’s Teachable Moments

by Debbie Twomey on June 15, 2011


Teaching a child lessons takes a bit of discernment. Toddlers can especially be difficult; since they have so much to learn, NO seems to be the principal word they hear all too often and they are just starting to assert their independence. Timing may be a parent’s best technique when teaching their toddler.

You would not teach a pet or child a new trick when they are tired, cranky or hungry because common sense tells you they will not be as receptive. The same is true of lessons of character and behaviors. It defeats the purpose to try and teach a young child a lesson if the time you choose is when they are least likely to understand or be responsive because they are tired or hungry.

Think of yourself. If you are hungry are you more or less inclined to learn or even care at that point? The same is true when we are tired. Our brain cells are not at their optimum and neither are our dispositions. A toddler is above all else, a person albeit a smaller one. They are in need of learning many lessons but a parent needs to choose the proper time to teach that lesson or you will be butting heads.

I know adults, who when they are hungry, cannot even relate socially because they are driven by their need for food. They can be very temperamental.  I have referred to some of them as growling bears and I would not be presenting anything but a platter of food at that time.

Adults act the same if they are tired. Your body is in a mode that is not at its best to listen to anything let alone retain it. So why try to teach a young child, who already has difficulty understanding more than that their parent says so—a major lesson at such a critical time?? It is an exercise in futility and both the parent and child are left with sour feelings and what gets learned?

 There are more acceptable times for teaching lessons. When a child acts in a dangerous manner, that lesson should be immediate so they remember what it is they need to avoid. But, for most lessons there can be more advantageous times to teach.

·         Immediately after meals

·         After they have been awake awhile from their nap or bedtimes

·         When your child shows interest in whatever you might want to teach (ex. If they keep trying to climb the stairs, take the moment they are on them to show them safety)


If we are trying to teach our child a new command, it is best learned when there is time and patience to work on it. This cannot always be possible, but the more often we implement it, the better the chance a lesson is learned the way we expect.

Simple steps for teaching a toddler:

1.       Take away distractions,

2.       Show by modeling what it is you expect and then repeat the command. It will take dedication and time, but a young child can learn given a more positive approach.

3.       Always give positive feedback. For a toddler, clapping can be all they need to understand a good action.

Example—you want your toddler to sit still for you while you dress them. Practice when you are not in a hurry. Place them where you want them seated and show them you are ready to help them get dressed (or to put their shoes on etc). They may take off but just go get them and place them back and start again explaining it is time to get our shoes on. Do not deviate because the repetition and consistency major aspect that can be most beneficial in teaching.


Simply expecting a child to do what is ordered may be unrealistic, especially when it is past nap or meal time. But, when the time is right, repetition, patience and a soft voice with positive reinforcement can go a long ways in helping your child to understand what is expected of them.

If you think this is too (easy) just observe their reactions when you praise them for learning a song or playing a game correctly. That is what they seek—-approval. No young child seeks disapproval, reprimand or punishment.

Parents can make almost any moment a teachable one, if they understand what time is not the best and taking advantage perfect timing.

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