Including code words in your safety plan is one crucial way to ensure the security of your family and dependents. Over the years, we've heard stories of child abduction attempts and how a 'code word' has saved the child from experiencing a terrible event that may haunt them for life.
Say, for example, your daughter goes for a sleepover at her friend's house, and at some point, during her time away from you, she becomes uncomfortable. Maybe she is being bullied or she feels homesick, or maybe she is sensing trouble from some adult, or she may just want to get out of an unhealthy situation…
Then, she calls you and says "Dad, I forgot to tell you, I the peanuts are in my room, just in case you're looking for them." Of course, you both know that ‘peanuts’ is your most recent codeword, and now your senses are alerted to the fact that your kid is trying to safely get out of an uncomfortable situation. So, you head straight to your car, step on the gas and go get her. No questions asked.
The Importance of a Code Word for Kids and Teens
- Code words help children express emotions in a public setting– privately– in a way only you would understand. This is very helpful especially when you're out in a public space with your kids and they feel some type of way or experience certain triggers – say anxiety. It gives them a way out without drawing too much attention to themselves.
- A Code Word lets you, as a parent, help your child out of an unsafe situation or to protect them from a far worse situation, like abduction. Sometimes it might just be general discomfort. However, as your child grows, it is okay to teach them to trust their gut and reach out to you whenever.
- A Safe Word can be used to signal a family emergency. If, for instance, you sense trouble coming and your family may be scattered in different locations, and you want to gather them in an emergency meeting spot that you've already established, a code word can easily pass this message without alerting outsiders.
Code Words Have an Expiration Date
Code words have expiration dates. While the words themselves don’t expire of course, at some point you will want to switch things up to ensure they are not compromised. For instance, once a safe word is given to, say an non-family member, for any reason, then you have to change it and provide a replacement immediately.
A good practice might be to have multiple code words. For example, a primary and secondary safe word that can be used before you get the chance to change the primary word. So, if the primary code word is used to signal danger, and the danger is not entirely dealt with, the secondary code word comes into play. However, you should aim to replace used safe words as soon as possible.
When to use Safe Words with Children?
No one wants to be in that situation where the safety of their child is threatened and the child is unable to discuss the situation without alerting the source of the threat. A safe word can prevent that, and can be applied in the following situations:
~Signal of Danger
~A Code Word is needed in moments like these – to signal danger. Your child can alert you when they sense a potential danger without anyone else knowing.
~Alert of a Family Emergency
~In times of family emergency, where everyone is out in different areas, you could just send a simple code word out to everyone (such as, ‘carrot’). Everyone already knows this, and will quickly meet up wherever the already designated emergency meeting spot is.
~In case of Unplanned Pick-ups
~If you get stuck at work and can't make it to pick up your child from school, you may send a trusted friend/ distant family member who your child should be acquainted with. Telling this person the code word would make it safer for your child to trust this person. In this case, they'd know not to go with anyone who doesn't know the code word.
~However, remember that once you share the safe word with anyone, you should change it immediately.
~Sign of / to Prevent Physical/Sexual Abuse
~In the world today, cases of physical and sexual abuse are ever-present. Aside from teaching your children boundaries, a safe word helps them act quickly in situations that might be beyond their control. As an adult, you can act quickly and save them from whatever trouble that may be looming.
~Removal from an Uncomfortable Situation
~As much as a lot of things can make your kids uncomfortable, a safe word helps you reassure them that they can always call on you whenever they feel discomfort. Or, it may be you bringing them out of whatever uncomfortable situation they might find themselves in–whether created by themselves or others. For example: maybe your teen attends a high school party and gets themselves into some trouble with their first beer or alcoholic beverage. Being able to call you with the feeling of safety and the use of the code word ensures them not getting a ride from an impaired friend or trying to hide the situation from you.
Choosing the Right Code Word
Now that we've established just how essential a Code Word is, it's also beneficial to carefully choose the right code word. There are three things to consider when choosing the right code word for your family:
~Consider the Age of the Child
~If your child is below five, you might want to use something they can be easily pronounced and remembered. You could opt to use words or simple phrases, rather than sentences. It should be simple and something not too out of character for them to say.
~Children from 5 to pre-teen may be more comfortable using a show or video game name, or favorite food. Teens can remember more difficult - less conversational words to ensure proper usage and less chance of accidental use.
~Easy to Remember
~When trying to come up with code words, we might get caught up in the very act itself and forget to use words that are easy to remember especially in moments of chaos or confusion. Words like 'door' or ‘doll’ should be easy to remember, plus, it is unique and hard to guess. If you don't end up using safe words for a long period of time, say 6 months or more, the likelihood of forgetting these words is still rather slim.
~Looking up safe words on the Internet isn't advisable, this is because most people may settle for the same thing, which makes it lack its uniqueness. Sure, you can look up words on the internet for inspiration, however, we strongly advise you to sit down with your family and come up with something you all agree on.
~Using Multiple Versions
~When choosing code words, there are so many options you could pick from. To make settling for another code word after the former has been used easier, you can use multiple versions. For example, say, the last code word was Carrots, you can follow in that line and choose from several other vegetables.
~Alternatively, you can use a combination of code word formats like:
~~Verbal Code Word
~~A verbal code word is simply a verbal cue made to communicate intent especially when it is important. Choosing a verbal cue is easy if your kids agree they'd use it discreetly.
~~Text-able Emoji or Single Letter
~~In case you have teenagers who don't want to relent their freedom, they might find using text-able Emojis or single letters far better than settling for some random words. Emoji's are quicker and easier to remember. Imagine your teenage daughter is at a party and then you receive a text with a single emoji from her, or a single letter, or maybe both at once, you would immediately rush over to get her before even asking what the issue is.
~~Physical Symbol or Action
~~Physical symbols or action can also pass for non-verbal cues. It could be a specific body movement, facial expression, hand gestures, or even nuances of the voice. It is important to try out something that wouldn't be too obvious to anyone else. Something only you and your family can spot immediately and fully understand.
~Reiteration and Practice
~Practice and Repetition are crucial steps in the use of safe words. We don't often expect dangers to happen when they do, and so it is essential to constantly remind your kids of the safe words, and when to use it. If, after so many months or years, there's been no sign of threat or no necessity for the code word, it is still best to continue reminding your kids what the active code word is and how to and when to the code word.
~Designate 2-3 ‘Safe Adults’
~Another bonus tip is to designate 2-3 'safe adults' you genuinely trust. These people can come in handy when you might make an emergency trip or get stuck at a meeting and won't be able to pick your kids up from school or activity. Letting them know these 'safe adults' can fill in for you anytime and would save you the stress of worrying for the safety of your child. It could be your parents, trusted neighbor, or best friend. Whomever you've chosen, you must inform your kids, and these 'safe adults' should know specific safe words too.