Parenting With Psychology

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How to Prevent Unwanted Behavior

ages 0 - 6 months ages 11 years - 18 years ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years communication discipline family mantra Mar 19, 2024


Imagine this scenario: You're at the grocery store with your children, and as you navigate the aisles, you can sense the tension rising.  Your kids are getting restless, and you can feel a potential meltdown brewing.  In moments like these, wouldn't it be wonderful to have a simple yet powerful tool to guide your children towards positive behavior?  Enter the concept of family mantras - a set of words or phrases that serve as reminders of your family's values and priorities, especially in tricky parenting situations.  As a psychologist focused on improving child behavior, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of using family mantras to prime children for good behavior.  Let's delve into this innovative parenting strategy and explore how it can revolutionize your parenting journey.


The Power of Family Mantras 

A family mantra is a set of words or phrases that encapsulate your family's values and desired behaviors.  It serves as a powerful tool to remind children of your expectations and priorities when facing challenging situations.  Mantras are unique to each family and can be something like, “Listen and be kind” or “Do unto others as you would have done to you.”  By repeating the mantra regularly, you create a mental "priming" effect, guiding your children's behavior and shaping their responses.


Setting the Tone for Positive Behavior

Before entering any potentially challenging situation, such as a grocery store trip, take a moment to gather your family together and recite your family mantra.  Think of it as a sort of “pre-game huddle,” and the grocery store is your extreme sports challenge for the day.  Perhaps your family mantra is “Respect and empathy guide our actions.”  This simple act sets the tone for positive behavior and reinforces your shared values as a family.


Let’s run through another example.  Picture this: You're about to enter a birthday party with your children, and you can feel the excitement bubbling in the air.  Before stepping inside, take a moment to gather your family and recite your chosen mantra.  It could be something like, "Kindness is our superpower.”  By verbalizing these values, you're setting the tone for positive interactions and reinforcing the behavior you wish to see in your children.


Situation-Specific Mantras

In addition to a general family mantra, consider crafting situation-specific mantras tailored to different scenarios.  By customizing your mantra, you provide clear guidance to your children on how to behave in that specific context.  As my children walk into school, I always say, "Be good, learn lots, and have fun."  This mantra reminds them of their responsibilities as students and sets a positive mindset for the day ahead.  Situation-specific mantras are a targeted approach that helps children understand the expectations for their behavior in specific contexts and provides a gentle reminder of the values that matter most to your family.


Priming Children for Good Behavior

Research in psychology has shown that priming children for good behavior can have a significant impact on their actions.  By consistently reinforcing positive messages through family mantras, you are effectively priming your children to exhibit the desired behaviors.  This priming effect sets a mental framework for children to follow and increases the likelihood of them adhering to the standards you've set.


No Guarantees, but Setting the Stage for Success

It's important to note that no parenting strategy is foolproof, and unexpected challenges may arise despite your best efforts.  However, by identifying standards for desirable behavior and clearly stating them as the goal through family mantras, you are laying a strong foundation for positive interactions.  Remember, the goal is not perfection but progress, and each instance of using your family mantra is a step toward fostering a harmonious family dynamic.


Choosing and Implementing Your Family Mantra

When choosing a family mantra, consider your family's core values and the behaviors you want to encourage.  Keep it simple and easy to remember, and involve your children in the process to foster a sense of ownership.  Once your mantra is established, make it a habit to recite it together before entering any challenging situation.  Repetition and consistency are key to reinforcing the desired behaviors.


Family mantras serve many helpful purposes beyond this priming concept.  To learn more and for more tips on how to choose your family mantra, check out What’s Your Family Mantra? (link to #23).


Take-Home Message 

In the whirlwind of parenting, finding effective tools to guide your children towards positive behavior can make all the difference.  Family mantras serve as gentle reminders of your family's values and priorities, setting the stage for constructive interactions in various situations.  By incorporating situation-specific mantras and leveraging psychology research on priming children for good behavior, you can empower your children to embody the qualities that define your family.  So, gather your family, create your mantra, and embark on a journey of positive behavior reinforcement. With a little repetition and consistency, you'll be amazed at the transformative impact it can have on your family dynamics and the choices your children make.


Family mantras fall under the Communication category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see Are You An Intentional Parent? to learn more about The 5 C’s).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Thanks for joining me to fill your parenting toolbox with psychology-based tools to feel more confident and capable in your parenting.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!


P.S. Family meetings are a great opportunity to develop your family mantra.  Never held a family meeting before?  Not to worry, I’ve got you covered with my free guide, covering the basic ground rules to get you set up for a successful family meeting.  Download it here now.



  1. Gollwitzer, P. M., & Bargh, J. A. (1996). The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior. Guilford Press.
  2. Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. L. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244(4907), 933-938.
  3. Nelson, L. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Carroll, J. S., Madsen, S. D., Barry, C. M., & Badger, S. (2007). "If you want me to treat you like an adult, start acting like one!": Comparing the criteria that emerging adults and their parents have for adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(4), 665-674.
  4. Ruffman, T., Slade, L., & Crowe, E. (2002). The relation between children's and mothers' mental state language and theory-of-mind understanding. Child Development, 73(3), 734-751.
  5. Smetana, J. G. (2011). Adolescents, families, and social development: How teens construct their worlds. John Wiley & Sons.


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