Provided by Linda and Richard Eyre
Whales are a good symbol of communication.

As we look to the new year of 2013, most parents want to make some resolutions regarding the public behavior of their children.

For years, everywhere we spoke to or interacted with parents, one of the questions that came up was, “How do I discipline my kids in a public place?”

What do you do on an airplane when two of your kids are fighting or in the shopping mall when a child is throwing a tantrum, or at church when one kid is criticizing or making fun of another?

To try to help parents with this, we spent nearly a year coming up with a “secret code” for family communication and writing a book about it ("The Book of Nurturing," St. Martin’s Press, 2004). We decided to use animals for the code symbols since most kids feel such an affinity for the natural world.

There were nine animal symbols, each a code word for some kind of behavior modification. For example, “whales” referred to humpback whales who communicate openly within their families, or “pods,” and who, according to marine biologists, never yell and never interrupt. After some role-playing in a family meeting (and looking at a lovely line drawing of a whale family done by the exceptional Russian artist our publisher found), kids are prepped so that the next time they begin to argue or fight or interrupt (in public or otherwise), you can just make eye contact, say “whales” and they know exactly what it means.

A second example is “crabs.” If you put a live crab in a bucket, he will just climb up and escape. But if you put two crabs in, the second one will reach up and pull down the one trying to climb out. Their instinct is to pull each other down.

Do we want to be like crabs? Do we want to criticize each other and hold one another back; or do we want to boost each other up and complement and encourage one another? Once this code word is in place, when there is some bickering or criticizing going on, it is so nice, instead of yet another lecture, to just get a child’s attention and say “crab.”

As a sort of New Year’s gift to our readers, we would like to make this family secret code of discipline and behavior available online. To read more about it and to download the line drawings of the animals and the stories that go with each, go to

The other seven secret code symbols are:

The Nature of Commitment: The Lesson of the Geese

The Nature of Discipline: The Law of the Elephant's Trunk

The Nature of Responsibility: The Lesson of the Bear

The Nature of Awareness: The Lesson of the Frog

The Nature of Freedom: The Law of the Fleas

The Nature of Consistency: The Law of the Tortoise

The Nature of Security: The Lesson of the Redwoods

Good luck in 2013 with all your important tasks of parenting, and we hope this little secret code is helpful to you in your efforts.

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at or at