Like most moms I work hard to try to remind my kids of the rules when we are at home and when we are out. I try to review them before we go anywhere, give reminders in the car, when we are out, when we are home. You know what? It just got to be too much. I don’t want to spend all my time reviewing rules. And I certainly don’t want to feel like all I am doing is lecturing my children on their behavior. There had to be a better way. Basically I wanted to find a way to boil down the best behavior rules for any situation that I could relay to my children quickly. Not only that I wanted my kids to be able to really take it to heart and own it. I wanted them to really hear me, not just nod while they think of other things.
So I came up with a good behavior mantra. Have you ever used a mantra? Specifically a mantra is something chanted for prayer, but it can also just be a phrase that is a truism. You repeat it often to keep focus. I thought of the three big things little kids need to remember for good behavior. I assigned each of those things a body part so my kids could touch something and have a visual to go along with that to make it easier for them to remember the mantra. Then I boiled it down to just six words. “Listening ears, gentle hands, obedient feet.”
These six words are all I have to say now. They apply to any situation and are the big rules we follow all the time. As we say them I have Ben touch his ears, hold out his hands, and touch his feet. Why? Moving along with our words helps him keep focused on what we are talking about. It makes the rules more concrete. More than that I don’t even have to be near Ben to remind him of the rules. From across the room I can tug on my ear and he will do the same, show his hand, and touch his foot. This is a great nonverbal way to remind him of the rules without having to fully insert myself into his social situation. I want him to learn how to interact with his friends on his own. He’s old enough to not need me right at his shoulder telling him what to do. But sometimes a gentle reminder is helpful.
Of course the words alone don’t teach the rules. They do have some explanation behind them. I make sure to go over the meanings regularly. But they are pretty simple.
We all know kids have a hard time listening. There is just so much to do and see in the world! Who can take the time to listen to mom? Listening ears are a reminder to pay attention. This one applies to more than just listening to me. It reminds my kids to listen to the person in charge, the teacher, the babysitter, whomever. More than that it is a reminder to pay attention to the world around you. Listen to what is happening, pay attention, and be aware of your surroundings.
Hitting, stealing toys, pushing- these are all annoying behaviors in kids. The thing is they are all developmentally normal. It is normal for kids to need a reminder to keep their hands to themselves and to not steal toys. Gentle hands remind us to be kind in our dealings with other people. More than that my son at least can get a bit rough with things around the house. I expect a certain amount of wear and tear from my kids. It isn’t like we keep fine china out or think I can put grape juice on the coffee table and not have it spilled. But I do expect my son to learn to treat the physical objects of our home with respect. He can’t slam doors or throw his plate across the room. I don’t want him thinking he can trash his stuff basically. Gentle hands applies to this as well. We try to treat the things in our world with respect and not destroy them. We want to be gentle with the people and things around us.
When you find yourself facing trouble, your feet can walk you away from it. That’s the main message here. There are a lot of temptations in the world, even at a young age. A child can know they aren’t supposed to play with tv remotes, but they are out. Those buttons are awfully tempting. How do you handle that? Walk away. You can’t touch something that isn’t close to you. Your feet carry you away from sticky situations. More than that they help you follow directions and rules. If your teacher says it is time to line up, your obedient feet help you get in line. If your mom tells you it’s time to head to bed, your obedient feet carry you to your room. It’s hard to follow directions without your feet taking you where you need to be, and it’s hard to get in trouble if your feet walk you away from it.
As we review the rules I have my kids touch that body part. By engaging the full body I make sure my children are paying attention to what we are doing. It is easy to just parrot back responses. By speaking the words and having a movement to go with it I am adding a chance to the rules to sink in. The brevity of it allows me to use it anywhere. I can call it out from the kitchen and see Ben doing it without stopping dinner prep. We can be in the car, running late, and I can still review the rules.
In all honestly I have yet to find a situation in which these three rules don’t apply. I want my children to pay attention to the world around them and listen when someone talks to them. I want them to treat other people and things with respect. And I want them to get themselves out of situations that have the potential to cause trouble (or avoid them entirely). These work at home and out of the home, with friends and with siblings, and in groups and one on one. These are the rules I try to live my life by.
I started this mantra with Ben when he was about 18 months old. Even at that age I was tired of all the specific rules we had to remember when we were in a new situation. I felt like I was losing his interest when I tried to review them. Sure there are other rules that can be tossed in at times for specific situations. But these three cover almost everything and I can run through them in about 10 seconds. I already do them with Ali and Sammy. They are only 17 months old, but they know their ears, hands, and feet. The rules are sinking in.
Short, to the point, and effective. That is what works. Listening ear, gentle hands, and obedient feet is our mantra for proper behavior. What’s yours?