Quiet coyote is a hand signal which is often used by teachers and parents as a non-verbal sign to instruct children to stop speaking and listen.
To use it, you simply make your hand into the shape of a coyote with a closed mouth and pricked-up ears.
Featured in the Disney movie Soul, the quiet coyote signal can be a very effective method of silencing a large group of children in a positive and empowering way.
However, the hand signal is very similar to some other gestures and salutes, some of which have negative connotations.
Read on to find out where the quiet coyote sign originated from, the psychology behind it, and why you may want to think twice about using it with your children.
What Does Quiet Coyote Mean?
Quiet coyote is a hand signal that can be used by adults to get the attention of children.
To make the quiet coyote sign, place your middle and ring finger on your thumb and point your forefinger and pinky finger up in the air. The middle fingers and thumb represent the coyote’s closed mouth and the pointed fingers represent its pricked-up ears.
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Quiet coyote is most-commonly used by elementary school teachers or camp counselors before addressing a class.
If the teacher needs the children’s attention, or the noise level beings to get too high, the teacher can raise his or her hand to show the quiet coyote.
The aim of the quiet coyote signal is to instruct the children to imitate the animal, by closing their mouths and using their ears to listen.
Origin of Quiet Coyote
The quiet coyote hand signal has gained awareness recently since it was featured in the 2020 Disney movie, Soul.
(Click here to see the Quiet Coyote scene in the movie.)
But you may be wondering, where did quiet coyote come from originally?
Teachers have used the quiet coyote hand gesture for many years. It’s not known exactly who first used it in the classroom, but the ritual has been passed on between education professionals all over the world.
As coyotes are only found in North America, in other countries the name for the gesture usually incorporates similar-looking animals such as the fox, wolf, or serval.
The quiet coyote signal is also known as:
- Eavesdropping fox
- Focus fox
- Silent fox
- Silent serval
- Quiet fox
- Whisper fox
- Whisper wolf
Psychology of Quiet Coyote
The quiet coyote signal can be very effective for getting kids to quiet down.
In some situations, it can be preferable to a verbal command, which can be interpreted by the child as being ‘told off’.
If young people are repeatedly told to ‘be quiet’ this could stifle some of their natural expression and confidence.
Family therapist Katie Zisking explains:
“Quiet coyote is a playful way to help children feel like they are becoming a leader in the process of becoming quiet and listening.
“Children are always wanting to be seen as independent, capable, and confident, but oftentimes, when in trouble or when they are being loud, they will feel a sense of guilt and even be ashamed of themselves.
“Quiet coyote makes it fun and enjoyable for a child to end a conversation with their best friend.”
The signal can be most useful in situations when a constant reminder to be quiet is needed, such as when children are walking along a corridor in school.
The signal can be held up for a period of time, which is easier than repeating ‘be quiet’ over and over again.
However, hand signals have their drawbacks in a noisy classroom.
Most children will be slow to comply with quiet coyote because they don’t immediately notice it. The hand signal takes time to domino around the class, and teachers may have to wait 30 seconds or more for the last children, who are engrossed in conversation to join in.
To combat this, when a room is particularly rowdy, teachers and parents may wish to say ‘quiet coyote’ out loud as well as giving the hand gesture.
The Controversy Around Quiet Coyote
Did you know that the quiet coyote hand gesture was made illegal in Austria in 2019 and France in 2020?
The reason for this is because the hand signal is identical to the ‘wolf salute’.
The wolf salute is a hand salute that has been used to represent The Gray Wolves – an organization of Turkish far-right extremists. The group has been responsible for many acts of violence including murder, primarily targeted at minority groups.
The quiet coyote hand signal used to very popular in European countries such as Germany.
But in recent years, the similarity to the Gray Wolf sign has meant that many teachers have now stopped using it.
The Quiet Coyote sign is also similar to some other hand gestures, some of which you certainly wouldn’t want your child to use!
Gestures that look very similar to quiet coyote:
- Devil horns – Used by heavy metal bands in the 1980s
- Hook ‘em Horns – Used by the Texas Longhorns athletic teams since the 1950s
- Infidelity – In Latin countries, when swiveled back and forth the sign implies cuckoldry as the word for this is equivalent to the word for ‘horned’
- Apana Mudra – A Hindu gesture that is believed to rejuvenate the body
- Karana Mudra – A Buddhist gesture to expel demons and ward off evil
- I love you – In American Sign Language, the sign for I Love You is similar
- Corna – Meaning ‘horns’ in Italian, it is the Mediterranean equivalent of knocking on wood to ward off bad luck
- Horned god – In Paganism and Wicca, the sign is used in rituals to represent the horned god
One of the main issues with using the quiet coyote sign in public is that people could get the wrong impression.
I came across this forum thread which was started by someone who saw a mother make the quiet coyote gesture to her three-year-old.
The result was an incredibly lengthy debate about all the possible meanings of the gesture and whether it could be related to Satanism!
In the context of a classroom or summer camp, quiet coyote certainly doesn’t harbor any negative connotations. But it’s good to be aware of some of the concerns and controversy as kids get older.
Quiet Coyote Alternatives
As gestures that look very similar or identical to the quiet coyote sign are fraught with negative and inappropriate connotations, you may wish to use another sign or word which has the same result.
Some alternatives to quiet coyote:
- Fingers on lips – The teacher places one finger over their lips to mean ‘no talking’ and the children copy
- Hands on top – The teacher places their hands on their head and says ‘hands on top’, to which the children copy and reply ‘everybody stop’
- Alligator – The teacher says ‘alligator alligator’ and the kids reply with ‘chomp chomp’ while making a chomping action with their arms
- Macaroni cheese – The teacher says ‘macaroni cheese’ and the children stop and reply ‘everybody freeze’
- One, two, three, eyes on me – The teacher calls out ‘one, two, three, eyes on me’ and the children reply with ‘one, two, eyes on you’
- Rhythmic clapping – The teacher claps and beat and the children mirror it
- Turn the lights off and on – The teacher turns off the lights and puts them back on when everyone is quiet
Quiet Coyote Tips
If you decide to try the quiet coyote method or something similar with a group of kids that you look after or with your kids at home, here are some tips that you may find useful:
- Make your expectations clear – Explain to the children what the signal means, when you will use it, and what you expect to happen as a result
- Give praise – Particularly in the beginning, you should give lots of praise to reward the children for responding correctly to the signal
- Show respect – Use a calm voice and demeanor and never raise your voice if the signal is ignored
- Allow children to use it – When children are presenting to the class, encourage them to also use the gesture
Elementary school teachers have successfully used the quiet coyote symbol for many years to instruct a class of children to quickly end their conversations and listen for instructions.
In recent times, its usage has simultaneously increased in North America since it was featured in the Disney movie Soul and decreased in Europe due to its similarity to a banned extremist salute.
There are many alternatives to quiet coyote that can also be used to get a group of children to be quiet without reprimanding them. Many of these have the same result without the risk of any misunderstanding by parents of the children who use it!
For more elementary school guides check out:
- Can kindergarteners ride the school bus?
- Kindergarten talent show ideas
- Show and Tell ideas for the 5 senses
- Show and Tell ideas for opposites
Hope this helps!