In the grand scheme of life, a child’s ability to walk when he wants to run may not seem to fit into the category of an “essential life skill.” But, when I think back on the many childhood behaviors I’ve witnessed that have resulted in pain and trouble, many of these could have been avoided by the simple rule to remember to use walking feet.
To this day, more than 8 years after the event, I can still close my eyes and see a little boy running by the swimming pool, then falling, then skidding—yes, skidding—across the cement as he halted to a stop only after the friction from his skin against the cement stopped his momentum.
So much pain and anguish I could have saved that child if I had only helped him to understand the importance of using walking feet in this setting, instead of simply barking my command that he “Stop running!”
Unlike the first two rules to have listening ears on and use nice touches, the rule to use walking feet isn’t a rule that we must implement at all times. Instead, the goal is to help children to understand when it’s necessary and essential that they use walking feet and understanding the reasons why.
As adults, we’re fully aware—or should be aware—of when we can and cannot run. Consider these examples at the airport. Do you know in which one of these situations it’s acceptable to run and in which situation it is unacceptable to run?
You are waiting at the airport for your husband, a member of the army who has been deployed for the last 10 months. You see your husband as he passes through the security doors and walks toward baggage claim.
You and your husband, a member of the army, are traveling for your honeymoon. As your husband goes through the security check, the machines beep and your husband is asked to step aside for an individual search conducted by TSA employees.
As an adult who understands the rules of the airport, you likely understand that it’s acceptable to run through the airport to get to your next plane, to give a hug to a family member that you haven’t seen in a long time, or even to rush to the bathroom before your flight boards. But you also understand the rules of the airport to know that you may not run past security until given clearance, or run past airline employees to try to get onto the plane.
Children faced with the above scenarios may think that it is appropriate to run to get to their dad, no matter what the scenario. But adults understand that it’s acceptable for the woman to run to her husband in the first scenario, but to stand back and wait for the TSA to complete their task in the second scenario.
The use of the rule to use walking feet is an attempt to help children to understand which scenarios require the child to walk and which scenarios allow the child to run if he or she so chooses, and why.
To teach this rule, follow these three steps.
Step 1: Teach Children How to Use Walking Feet
You can’t just show up somewhere and tell children to walk. Kids have to be prepared to understand that commands like, “Walk!” are more than just words that the adult wants to use to try to ruin their fun!
To prepare children to understand how to use their walking feet, practice using walking feet on a regular basis. Point out when the children are using their walking feet (or when you are and they should be). Show what it looks like so that the kids have a visual to remember when you ask them to walk in the future.
Step 2: Talk About the Reasons Why
As I mentioned above, many children may seem to think that when adults scream “Walk!!” at the swimming pool, we are doing so in an effort to destroy their fun. The truth is that we say these things because we know the potential consequences of their actions, and they don’t.
Kids need to know why we are telling them to walk.
When you point out that you are walking or that the children should be walking, point out why:
“I’m glad that you are using your walking feet right now because there are so many people here and I might lose you if you use your running feet.”
“I’m using my walking feet right now because when we run at the pool, when can fall and scrape up our toes, our legs, our hands and our whole body!”
Step 3: Set the Expectation to Use Walking Feet
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Helping children to prevent their behaviors is much more valuable than trying to respond to the issue after-the-fact.
Before showing up at an event or a special location, let the children know of your expectation for them to use their walking feet, why it’s important and what the consequence will be if they can’t:
“We are going into the zoo now and there will be so many people there. You must use your walking feet today while we are at the zoo so that I don’t lose you in all of those people. I know that you will be excited to see the animals, so I understand that you’re going to forget and start running. I’ll remind you to use your walking feet if I see you using your running feet. If you can’t listen to those reminders, then we’ll have to leave the zoo because I’m too worried about losing you and would rather that you be safe than that we have fun at the zoo.”
It might even be valuable to insert a sentence about when the children will be able to run or how long they can expect to have to wait before they run:
“There is a park inside the zoo and we can stop there whenever you want to run around. Just let me know that you want to run and we’ll head over to the park and you can run inside the park for as long as you want.”
Remember that the rule to use walking feet doesn’t have to be required at all times, but instead should be used to help children know when they are supposed to walk, and when it’s allowable to run if they’d like. This is a lesson in helping children to learn the reasons why walking is important, not a way to control what kids are allowed and not allowed to do.
When walking is required, talk about it and let kids know the reasons why. But when walking isn’t required, talk about that too and the reasons why walking isn’t required in this particular scenario. This method will help children to learn the details that help them to understand when it’s socially acceptable to run, and when it isn’t.