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What's the code word?


Teaching your child to tackle life's obstacles is a huge task, but you're researching how to best help them so I already know you're doing a great job.


Whether your child has anxiety, ADHD, is being bullied, is trying out something new, or maybe they're just introverted, one of my favorite tips in teaching your child to be their own superhero is having code words. These top secret special words allows your kids to communicate their needs regarding a sensitive or highly emotional situation without the pressure of them having the "right" words to say. It also allows you to prevent meltdowns, ask your children to lower their voice, calm their body, or check their emotions without having to ask them the same thing 1,879 times.


Cool, sounds fun. I like top secret things, but what is a code word? A code word is verbal shorthand to communicate something quickly between members of your family. Its kind of like your family's own inside joke. It can be a single word, or sometimes a short phrase works just as well.


As these words are usually used in rushed, chaotic, or highly emotional situations I prefer to keep the code words lighthearted and fun. A couple examples that I have used are "buttercups?!" At the time I was nannying 5 children, and telling them all to buckle up every single time we got in the car became a tiny nightmare. To lighten the situation I started saying "Buckle up buttercups!". It is strangly difficult to be annoyed and utter that sentence. It worked and ended up getting shortened to simply "buttercups?" posed as a question to confirm that everyone was buckled before I started driving. For another example, we currently say "you're gonna be a dinosaur". This is our way to tell our youngest son that he needs to eat something despite being "not hungry", because he's flying down the fast lane straight toward meltdown territory. The dinosaur phrase (as sometimes there are variations, like "hey ya little t-rex, go get you a snack") is a step above the question of whether he is hungry, and is a playful way to tell him that he has to have some sort of protein.


Great! I love it, and I think this will work for my family! But how do we start? Seize this Playportunity and brainstorm fun code words with your child. In the middle of a tantrum or when emotions are BIG is not the time to choose your code words. Work to attach as much positivity to your words as possible, and find a time when everyone is receptive and willing to brainstorm. Once our kids hit the age of 7, we started having a lot of these conversations in the car. We tend to do a lot of joking around and laughing when we're driving together so this took pressure off the situation. We were all able to laugh at the idea of our youngest literally turning into a dinosaur, and played a quick game of "That's Ridiculous!" revolving having an actual dinosaur with us. That was it, no drama, no tears, no hurt feelings.


We have a code word! Now when do we use it? Sometimes it can be challenging to start a new habit, especially when code words are intended to be used in intense situations. I recommend playing a few scenarios out in your head before you actually need to use the code word. Mentally roll through what typically happens that caused your family to decide on using a code word, and practice using your new tool instead of raising your voice or nagging. You can also try doing this type of role playing with your family so they know what to expect when the new word is used. Here are a few examples of when code words can be helpful:


1. Highly emotional situations involving a behavior you continually ask your children to change.


2. You are at the end of your rope and need a little space to calm your own emotions.


3. Your children recognizes they are overwhelmed with a situation or environment and need some space or help processing what is going on.


The next time you find your child squirming at the dinner table, unable to control their body, or on the verge of a meldown: use your code word, and observe how it works. It may take some time for everyone to get used to this new process, so give it a few days/weeks/months for everyone to get onboard. You don't have to get it all right the very first time. Evaluate and change your words as needed to best fit your family.


You're doing great! If you need any extra help eliminating the chaos and bringing more joy into your home, please reach out.


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