Diana Boggia: Teach and communicate with children using secret codes

Diana Boggia

Thumbs up and high fives aren’t the only ways to show a job well done. There are endless nonverbal hand signs as well as quick verbal cues that express excitement, encouragement and positive communication.

While playing a wildly competitive men vs. women game of dominoes last weekend with neighbors, the men developed a “knuckle knock” with each winning round. They seemed to form a bond of camaraderie and support with their connection. They went on to win the game!

Children just love secrets. They love to be included in secrets. They love little winks or a “two thumbs up” for a job well done. 

When I’d make an absolute promise to my children (which wasn’t often, because I don’t break promises), my daughter would ask, “Mom, do you thumb and pinkie swear to it?” If I were sure I could “deliver” the promise, I would “thumb and pinkie swear.” We would connect our thumbs and pinkie fingers in a sort of handshake and then give each other a wink. She’s now 21, but I am certain that if I promised her something even today, she’d ask if I’d “thumb and pinkie swear” to it. 

When I taught multiply disabled teenagers, developing sign language and secret codes was very effective in classroom management and building self-esteem. Although classes were small, with only 12 or 13 students, each one needed individualized attention, all day long. I was able to connect with each student by using lots of quiet codes that didn’t disrupt the class or decrease self esteem with humiliation. 

Try this:

Here are some easy secret codes to try:

- From a distance, a simple, “Double Thumbs Up” provides visual reinforcement, while matching up your thumb to meet their thumb with the sound of a sizzle, implies that they are focused and on fire. 

- Those who have difficulty keeping their hands to themselves can get the “HIP” code. Hit your side hip and say “HIP,” teaching them the acronym for “Hands in Pockets.” You may be surprised to see children hurry in their attempt to get their hands in their pockets first. Rather than repeating “keep your hands to yourself” or “Stop touching everyone,” a quick “HIP” can be a fun reminder and eliminates identifying a specific child or humiliating a child in public, while still meeting the goal of teaching personal space. You can transition from providing multisensory cues (verbal “HIP” while hitting your hip) to just one cue, choosing whether a verbal or visual cue is more effective for your child.

- Another quick code is “C.C.,” which stands for Common Courtesy.  When children all rush to be first, they can be rude and impatient, pushing, shoving or knocking each other out of the way through a doorway, just to be first to the table or first to the car. A quick verbal reminder of “Stop. C.C." doesn’t admonish anyone or decrease enthusiasm, it just serves as a reminder to be thoughtful and courteous, while making it very clear that we are watching.

Family signs

Many parents struggle with a child who walks into a bedroom or bathroom without knocking. Children often don’t understand the need for privacy and very simply need to be taught.

Rather than repeating things over and over, placing a simple octagonal red paper with the word STOP written on it is a visual reminder on specific doors. Teach your child the rhyming words “Stop and Knock,” and then praise him when he does.

I previously have described the very successful “Two-Tap,” which provides a child his own code to let us know that he wants our attention. A child can be successfully taught to approach an adult and ask for help, rather than be scolded for interrupting. 

Teaching expectations through multisensory communication (visual, auditory and tactile) is much more effective than yelling or issuing frustrated reminders and will produce rapid results. When learning is fun, when it is a game, children are most always ready and willing to play.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio, whose column appears weekly in The Repository. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton OH 44702.