Code Word

I have taken graduate level courses in child psychology and behavior management.  I have spent countless hours in classes, seminars and meetings about how to set rules, boundaries, and expectations  and how to discipline effectively using positive reinforcements – and had a few years in the classroom using those practices that I was taught.  I have read books and manuals and blogs and magazines and read and read and read and studied about how to get my students to do what I need them to do, when I need them to do it.

And my expert, degreed self had a vision of how I would teach and discipline my own kids one day (as if MY kids would ever need it).    Here’s how my perfect mommy self would “handle” (for lack of a better word – where’s my thesaurus???) my kids.

1.  I would always explain why I needed them to do something. “The reason I need you to be quiet right now is because Mommy needs to make a phone call and I can’t hear the person on the other line when you are also talking.”

2.  I would always use positive speak (i.e. “Walk”  instead of “Don’t run.”)

3.  “Because I said so” would NEVER be a spoken from my mouth.  Instead I would always do #1.

(Ok.  You can stop laughing at me now.  We are always better parents before we are actually parents, right?)

So, then I became a real parent, and you know what I learned when my first born was a toddler?  “Because I said so” sometimes IS the reason I need them to stop what they are doing.  Maybe because they wouldn’t understand the real reason, or maybe because I just don’t feel like giving a reason (I’m not alone here!), or maybe because there isn’t any time to explain.  For example…

When my oldest son was a little over two, I took him and his baby brother to the park with some friends.  Up to this point, I believe I had stuck to my ideal vision that I stated above – pretty easy to do when they are in the baby and new-toddler phases.

I was sitting on the picnic blanket nursing the baby who was still in “blob mode”(around 2 months old) and my two-year-old was running in the open field between me and the parking lot.  At one point, he decided to chase some older kids who were closer to the parking lot.

Realizing I was a little tied up at the moment (bare breasts under the nursing cover), I decided to raise my voice (not yell… no, never yell) at my son to come play closer to me…

“James, come back!”

Haha, yeah, like that worked.  The two-year-old ran a little farther away.

“Jaaaames!  Come back over here, please!”

And to my naive astonishment, the kid didn’t even slow down.  In fact, I believe he sped up!

Then, it hit me.  I had always been close enough to him to be able to explain to him WHY he shouldn’t be doing something.  This insta-command thing was new.  He had never heard it before.  So just as he was nearing the parking lot, I yelled,


Or something to that effect.

That moment right there, the first time my son completely ignored me.  It wasn’t until I gave him that explanation of WHY he shouldn’t do something, completely changed my ideal vision of parenting.  Why did he do that?  Because up until that day I had explained every.little.thing to him… and don’t get me wrong!  That’s how they learn best how to not just DO, but understand right versus wrong.

But in an emergency… when they truly truly need to stop what they are doing.  They need to STOP.  NOW.  There is no time for an explanation.  They need to understand that you mean business.

That’s when I invented the “code word.”  I needed a shortcut to get my child to listen without question.


We went home and practiced it.  FREEZE.  When Mommy says that word, it does not matter what you are doing, what you WANT to be doing or what you were ABOUT to do; you are going to stop, put your hands on your head, and turn to look at me.

Now, the “put your hands on your head” part may seem a bit extreme, but trust me, when they are playing with a toy, the only way to get their undivided attention is to make sure their hands are empty.

I recently noticed my 3-year-old doing the same thing as my older son had done years before.  This week, I brought back our old friend, FREEZE.

The kids have a great time playing our FREEZE game where they get to cut up and act crazy, then Mommy yells “FREEZE” and they immediately stop with their hands on their head.  They also like playing Mommy’s role and telling me when to FREEZE.

With some short reminders in the car when we are about to go into the store or play at the park, the kids remember to respond immediately when I yell the code word.  It’s also a great way to get both of their attention when I need them to switch activities.  It gives me time to explain how we are going to transition into the next activity.

Do you have a code word?  What do you use?  Comment below to share!!!



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4 Comments on Code Word

  1. Renee Hargrave Duhon
    September 11, 2013 at 11:14 pm (4 years ago)

    I love your code word for you little ones! Thank you for bringing up the many reasons I too explain what we are all doing and what may come up next.
    I love being A mom of 4 amazingly bright, well-rounded and forgiving young gals and guy any Mom would love to care for…. My code word is not a word at all. My Mom taught me to whistle (and I don’t mean whistle like a bird). It is loud and my kids drop everything they are doing and are at full attention!!!! I can be in a store, park, subdivision or a festival. And when they hear my whistle they all come running. I have used it since Liv was around 6-7 months old. It has been a life saver. No truly a “life saver”. I could not imagine being taught by anyone other than her. She too used the same method for me an my two sisters. Back when you could actually let your children play with all the children in a neighborhood. It is funny how my kiddos love that I don’t yell their names and they know that familiar whistle any place they go.
    Thanks so much for posting this becaise I too thought I would have had a better way to manage four without my secret tone whistle 🙂

  2. Mia
    September 12, 2013 at 12:24 am (4 years ago)

    Casey, you are brilliant. While I totally agree with all the rationale behind your rules for how you’d “handle” your kids, I know I can be impatient (and semi-practical) and can easily imagine my kid running toward the parking lot and me yelling “Stop right this instant or I will… you myself!” A code word is probably a much better long-term strategy. Please, please, please move to St. Louis in about 4 years and be my mommy coach. Please. Or at least remind me to re-read all of these posts every 6 months or so from about 3 months before the first due date (whenever that will be) until the last one goes to college. Please.

  3. TMT Casey
    September 12, 2013 at 6:41 am (4 years ago)

    Renee…next time I see you, you have to teach me how to whistle like that!!! I wish I had that talent because I would much rather whistle than yell FREEZE! Anything to get the kids’ attention immediately! Yesterday I used my code word while James was running around a large fellowship room and you could practically hear his breaks screeching to a halt! So important because he was close to bulldozing a few little kids over. Thanks for sharing, Renee!!

  4. Casey
    September 12, 2013 at 11:27 am (4 years ago)

    Mia – From what I hear, older kids aren’t that much different from the younger ones 😉 just bigger. So if you can teach the big kids, you can DEFINITELY teach the babies! You are going to be an amazing mommy one day and you know I’m just a phone call away! OR You can come live back in Southern Louisiana!!!


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