We all look for teachable moments. Of course, toddlers always have a knack for asking questions very loudly and not always with tact. “Mama, where is all that man’s hair?” “Mama, why is that lady in a wheelchair?” The possibilities for awkwardness are endless.
My three year old son is notorious for this. I always try to answer his genuine curiosity in an age-appropriate yet truthful manner. Recently, he noticed someone smoking. “Mama, what’s that guy doing?” So, I went on to explain what cigarettes were and why they were bad for you (sparing the really ugly details). The question of “If it can make them sick, why do they do it?” was a lot harder to answer.
Since our teachable moment, my son has pointed out every cigarette he sees on the ground and every person he sees smoking. He has also decided that it’s important that we let people know that they shouldn’t smoke. Coming from a child, I could see people being receptive to the suggestion that they quit, but my son takes me by the hand, walks me up to the smoker, and says, “Mama, tell them. Tell them that they shouldn’t do that. Tell them that it can make them sick.” And I stand there flabbergasted.
I have to think quickly. What do I do? If I tell them what he wants me to tell them, I’m being a self-righteous (in the eyes of the other adult) know-it-all. If I don’t say something, then the lesson I’ve tried to teach him doesn’t hold its importance. I look down at him holding my hand and he looks up at me with his big brown eyes and what else can I do? I take a deep (smoke-free) breath and approach the “offender.”
“Hi,” I say sheepishly. “My son asked me about cigarettes and smoking recently and I told him what they were and that they aren’t good for you. Because of that, he wants me to tell you that you shouldn’t do it.” (Yes, I feel the need to give the background story so that they’ll understand where I’m coming from.)
So far, surprisingly, I haven’t been yelled at or had a beverage thrown in my face. The smokers we’ve approached (about six already) have all nodded in agreement and have said something to the effect of, “You’re right. Smoking IS bad and I shouldn’t do it. Don’t ever start.”
I then thank them for their time and walk away hoping that I did right by my child. I can’t say that our Public Service Announcement has convinced anyone to quit, but I wonder if they go home and tell someone about the little boy and his mommy who told them they should stop smoking. I wonder if this experience makes them think of what kind of example they want to set. I wonder if it changes their idea of the kind of role model they want to be. I wonder if our teachable moment taught someone else too. I wonder.