In The Ethics of Our Fathers (2:6), it states in the name of the great sage Hillel: "The ill-tempered cannot teach." It is also true the ill–tempered cannot learn. People need to be in the proper frame of mind in order to successfully impart and receive knowledge. In parenting, however, we often find that both teacher and student are in no frame of mind for the lesson that is supposed to be occurring.

Parents often realize that they need to teach their kids something at the moment that the child is doing something wrong. The parent sees the error of the child's ways and wants to correct him on the spot. Not only does the parent objectively see the error, but the parent may also react emotionally to the child's wrongdoing – especially if that wrong-doing is dangerous, morally wrong or otherwise seriously disturbing. The parent's emotional reaction (upset, fear, disgust, terror, hurt, etc.) makes it seem urgent that the child is corrected immediately. Adrenalin fuels this notion.

In fact, almost everything in parenting is "un-urgent." The exceptions lie in life-threatening behaviors of the child that provoke an instinctive parental scream – which is as it should be. If a child is standing in traffic, parental hysteria is appropriate and beneficial. However, 99% of misbehavior is not life-threatening and therefore, does not require an urgent intervention. Parents can take the time they need to slow down, think of an educational plan and implement it. Moreover, as our sages caution, this is the only way that a parent can actually successfully impart a lesson.

The child – the receiver of the lesson – must also be in a learning mode. Upset on the emotional level clouds the brain; thinking rationally becomes impossible. Very often a cycle occurs between a parent and child in which each progressively upsets the other. Let's say, for instance, that Mother discovers her teenage son lying in bed in the morning twenty minutes after his alarm went off. He will now be late for school. This happens frequently enough that Mom is quite upset. Her frustration is evident as soon as she opens her mouth – her tone and words are most unpleasant. The boy, receiving a rather nasty greeting in place of a cheery "good morning" reacts badly. He makes some sarcastic remark. This further enrages his mother who now starts threatening removal of every privilege the boy enjoys. Her out-of-proportion response sends the young man into a full tantrum – which is greeted with yet more threats and punishments by Mom.

Cycles such as this one are common and occur very often due to a timing problem on the parent's part. futile to try to teach a child something unless he is in a learning frame of mind. Making sour comments to a barely awake teen is extremely unlikely to get a favorable response; therefore, don't do it. Put another way, making sour comments to a barely awake teen is extremely likely to provoke an awful response; therefore don't do it! Whichever way we put it, the bottom line is the same: don't try to educate a child unless both you and the child are in a "teaching moment" – a pleasant, calm emotional state. If a parent feels frustrated, it is best for the parent to say nothing at the moment, go away, calm himself or herself down, create a plan and come back to introduce the lesson when the child is in a receptive state.

Remember: there are very few emergencies. We have twenty years to raise a child so we can afford to take a few minutes, a few hours or a few days to wait for the right time to make our point. We can wait for that teaching moment.