Motherhood

How to Help Kids Feel Safe

Jean Goddard

When we were growing up, my mom gave us a code word…

“Fat Tulip.”

She chose those words because we used to watch Tales From Fat Tulip’s Garden, a bizarre British children’s TV show that ran from 1985 to 1987. Have you ever heard of it? It was very random.

But! As my mom explained to us, we could say the words to her anytime, and she would know we were in trouble and would come get us. So, if I were hanging out at someone’s house and didn’t want to stay — but felt awkward telling my friends — I could call my mom for permission. Then I’d just say something like, “Did you videotape Fat Tulip?” and she would know to come pick me up.

On the flip, my mom promised us that if there were ever an emergency and she had to send someone else to pick us up from school (or elsewhere), she would tell them to say “Fat Tulip.” That way, we’d know they were trustworthy.

Thankfully, we never had to use the words, but they could have helped us wriggle out of any number of bad situations (peer pressure, uncomfortable dates, a sketchy party, stranger danger); it felt great to have them in our back pocket. Funnily enough, my siblings and I all still remember “Fat Tulip,” three decades later.

I was reminded of all this when, this weekend, I read a dad’s modern-day method for helping his teenagers — who, in 2017, all have cell phones:

Let’s say that my youngest, Danny, gets dropped off at a party. If anything about the situation makes him uncomfortable, all he has to do is text the letter “X” to any of us (his mother, me, his older brother or sister). The one who receives the text has a very basic script to follow. Within a few minutes, they call Danny’s phone. When he answers, the conversation goes like this:

“Hello?”

“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes. I’m on my way.”

One important (and wonderful) element: This dad’s X-plan doesn’t require that your kid tell you anything after getting picked up. No questions asked. That way, he or she will always feel comfortable reaching out.

Joanna Goddard and Toby and Anton

Crazy to imagine these boys as teenagers one day! (But not for a million more years, right?)

Thoughts? Did you have a system like this growing up? Would you make one with your kids?

P.S. Home as a haven, and how to talk to kids.

(Bottom photo by Nicki Sebastian.)

  1. I LOVE that!!!!! What a wonderful idea!! What an excellent way to make kids feel safe and I loved and that the kid doesn’t even have to tell the parent what happened. They can just come to you.

  2. Jayani says...

    I love the idea of a code word and have thought about implementing one but I would love to get your thoughts on what age to introduce it at?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question! i think it makes sense for around age 6, when it comes to the part about “if someone else has to pick you up from school in an emergency, they will know this code word” or whatever. for the social part, maybe when they first start doing playdates/sleepovers on their own? toby still has one of us there every time :)

  3. Amy says...

    Yes! Our mom made the code word “cabbage” so that we could call from a friend’s house and ask “may I stay at Kate’s house for dinner, or did you say I needed to be home because you were making cabbage?” and she’d know that we had to be saved from our pushy friend who would listen to us call home. My sister and I are 25 and 32 now and we still use it. “You should come to this party; I think so-and-so is planning to bring a cabbage slaw.” And we know that the party is terrible. I didn’t know so many other families used this sort of safe word!

  4. Jamie says...

    I wish. My parents and I aren’t close, I can’t be the only reader who gets huge pangs at every parenthood post (jealous of Anton and Toby…eh). Everything my mom says to me sounds like an accusation, even if it’s something positive or I had nothing to do with. Could never have trusted her in a jam.

    • Abby says...

      Jamie- you aren’t alone. The code word at my house was about my mother’s shame and anxiety. I felt a pang reading this post because I longed for that sense of security Jo is providing for her kids.
      But if I can offer some unsolicited advice, keep letting those feelings out- to a trusted friend or a therapist or a journal. Each retelling takes a little more sting out of the memory. And helps you mourn what you didn’t have.
      It does get easier to hear about other parents’ kindness and gentleness, and even can be encouraging that those kids aren’t going to have to fight through all you’ve been through.
      Stay strong. You’re not alone.

  5. 1st, I LOVE that picture of you and your boys! Yes, my son has a safe word if someone goes to pick him up he doesn’t know. The x text is a great idea. I have given my son permission to use me as an excuse for anything he doesn’t want to do. My older sisters told me in high school/college to not do drugs with anyone but them (not that I’ve done them with them either) because you can’t trust non-family. so when friends were like let’s take this pill (in high school), or coke or pot (college) I would say “oh, sorry my sisters told me to only do that stuff with them around.” And then I never did it. I’ve told me son that for drugs and alcohol…he’s 9, I hope it doesnt come up for a long time but its easier to blame me than be teased by friends, right?

  6. Shannon says...

    This is a valuable tool. And one I will definitely use. I especially like the dad’s tip of not having to share once the child or teenager is picked up. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Laura B. says...

    Growing up we had the same thing, my mom had a code word that she promised someone would use if she had sent someone to pick us up (thankfully we never had to use it!) but also we could call her if we were uncomfortable at a friend’s house and she would pick us up. Would have been brilliant… if she had remembered! I called her one from a middle school sleep over using our code phrase and she had NO clue what I was talking about. We had a super awkward, stilted conversation until she finally got it. I still tease her about it 15+ years later!

  8. Caity says...

    I love this and will make sure to have a code word with my son when he gets older. When I was younger my mom and I had a code word, pickle, but it just meant “I love you” so I could tell her but not have everyone else hear. We still say it at the end of every phone call to this day and we both have so much pickle memorabilia!

  9. Julie says...

    When is a good age to teach your kids code words?

    • Carol says...

      We started talking about a code word (we call it a password) as soon as my kids were in daycare/school and the possibility of being picked up by someone else was there. They are 5 and 8 now and we still talk about the password occasionally to make sure they remember it.

  10. This is SUCH a good idea! I’m only 21 so definitely not having kids any time soon but i’m going to use this with my friends for when they go on dates etc. excellent! xx

    http://www.diaryofanexpatgirl.com

  11. KylieO says...

    This is so great, and definitely something I plan to do with my own children as they grow. It reminded me of a time I went travelling to the US with 20 high school students before my kids were born (I’m a teacher in Australia ). They were staying with host families in Washington State, and we came up with a code word for them to use if they felt uncomfortable in any way in the homes they were staying in. The code word was “vegemite” and if they were in trouble, they had to call me or one of the other teachers and say “I wish I’d packed my Vegemite!” Thankfully we didn’t have to use it, but everyone felt good having something Aussie to rely on!

  12. Laurel says...

    I HATED buffalo wings as a teenager — so that was the perfect buzzword for Mom & me.

    “Yes, everything is fine here. But I have been craving chicken wings!” … Mom would know something’s wrong.

    It wouldn’t work nowadays, since I LOVE buffalo wings now!

  13. Hannah says...

    We had a code word growing up and it did give me a sense of security. Now as we grow up, I have instituted a code word for our parents as well as grandparents after a slew of scam phone calls from people pretending to be their children or grandchildren needing money for things like bail! So scary to feel like your family (especially those who seem like they should be independent but maybe losing their savvy) could be taken advantage of. This alleviates many of our concerns and doesn’t interfere with their independence!

    • Kari says...

      This is a great idea!

  14. Emma says...

    My mom said I could always ask her to come get me day or night and she wouldn’t ask me anything about why I needed her. I used it once. Got myself into a situation I didn’t feel comfortable in. I called her to pick me up at 3am. She came, asked if I was alright, and that was it, turned up the radio and drove home. Man I love her.

    • andrea says...

      I love this, my mom did this too, no codeword but she was available any time I called (still is.) One time I called her from a party that I was very drunk at and very much wanted to leave and I called her she picked me up, she was very against drinking at the time but there were no questions and the next morning she had pizza waiting for me :) love that woman

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so nice. i’m sure she was proud of you for calling her.

    • What awesome Moms. I hope I’m like that when my daughter is older :-)

      Yesterday I was at the spa getting my hair cut, and next to me was a Mom (I’m guessing in her 50s). Across the room there was this young man in his 20s – tall, handsome, tattooed, trendy – turns out it was her son. Then another 2 guys in their 20s appeared, more sons. The Mom was out with her 3 mature boys at the spa!! She had taken them with her for a treat day out. They were clearly really enjoying the experience and were so gracious and polite. At one point the eldest son came over to the Mom and asked her if he should settle the check, the Mom told him she’d take of it and why didn’t he pop across the road for a cocktail while he waited for her to finish up. How often do you see a Mom out with 3 sons of that age all having a relaxing, bonding experience together??!! What an awesome family. You really got the feeling that this Mom had allowed her sons to grow up into men without being mollycoddled, and as a consequence they wanted to spend time with her. It was inspiring.

      http://www.thislifeisbelle.com

  15. Love this! Cells didn’t really exist when I was a kid but my mother always reminded me as a teenager when I could drive that if I needed to be picked up (aka had been drinking) to just call her and she’d get me no questions asked no matter what time and that I would not be in trouble.

  16. Such a good idea! Especially about not asking questions afterwards. Such a great way to build trust. When I was in middle school, I called my mom and whispered, “There are weird people here. Come pick me up.” But she thought I said, “They have drugs!” She was there like 5 minutes later when it was supposed to be a 10 minute drive. Haha! Oh mama bears.

  17. Anon says...

    My mom made it clear I could call her anytime, although I thankfully never had to. I was always comfortable sharing things with her. We didn’t have a code word, but I think that would have been good. I do remember her telling me if a stranger ever tried to get me to do something to run to the nearest adult shouting “this is not my [mom]/[dad].” While this was a little unnerving, it did apply to my logical side (because she reasoned that the point was not to look like a kid having a tantrum).

  18. Rachel says...

    I, too, saw the “X” article circulating around social media. I love this idea and will definietley use it some form of it with my future children. However, I don’t agree with those who use it as an excuse for their kids to get out of things. Or that they can use their parents as an excuse not to do something. Of course, if it something is dangerous or unsafe, use it. But I saw some comments that said they would have their mom say “no” when they didn’t want to do something (hang out with friends, go on a date with a guy, etc.). That’s a poor excuse and your mom should not have to say no for you. I had a couple of friends growing up (short lived friends) who always used this line. Or would cancel last minute and blame it on their parents. Learn how to be a big girl or boy, and make your own decisions.

  19. Emily says...

    Our code is to call me Mother. We could use it via text, in conversation, and in front of your friends. If someone is asking you in front of me to do/go somewhere and you need me to say “no,” just call me Mother and I’ll know to say no. When they are in elementary school and the planning is spur of the moment (we just finished soccer and so-and-so wants me to come over), it is very useful. Mine are teenagers now, and it still works.

    • Amy says...

      Smart! I like this one.

  20. Taylor says...

    Providing family and friends of all ages with a safe word/phase to get out of a sticky situation is a great idea. As a twenty-something woman navigating the world of online/app dating, my mom and I have similarly discussed coming up with a “safe phrase” for the alternative situation — that it’s actually me texting her to let her know that I’m in a safe situation (e.g. if things are going well, it’s getting late, and I’m not keen on the idea of sneaking off to call mom). Texting her a phrase that’s uniquely “me” gives her comfort that a mystery man hasn’t harmed me and isn’t texting her that I’m “safe” on my behalf.

  21. Jenn Iizuka says...

    My brother and I both have Japanese middle names that we don’t use in our daily lives. Those were always our code words when we were little – if my parents needed to send someone we didn’t know to pick us up, or if someone approached us that we didn’t know, if they didn’t have the secret word, we knew not to go with them and/or find an adult.

    I don’t have kids, but I’ve always told my friends kids that they can call me to get them/help them if they’re ever in a situation and they don’t want to call their parents. I think it’s important.

    • Claudia says...

      I think it’s so cool, that you told your friends’ kids that they can call you for help!! It really takes a village…
      What a wonderful friend you are!

    • Amy says...

      I agree – that’s a great idea to extend it to your friends’ kids (especially if their parents are the strict/fly-off-the-handle type – I knew a few friends growing up who probably could’ve used an adult family friend like you!) Will their parents appreciate it? Maybe not, and there’s a fine balance between helping out and overstepping family boundaries, but ultimately it’s about keeping the kids healthy and safe.

  22. Katie says...

    I don’t remember having a code word with my parents, but I did have a teacher in high school and a ‘cool’ mom I’d babysit for both offer to help me. They told me if I was ever in a situation and didn’t feel comfortable calling my parents, I could call them and they’d come get me. I think that’s awesome. Even though their kids were very little, they were still looking out for other teens they cared for.

  23. Claudia says...

    We had a code word as well and it was also the password if anyone other than our parents ever tried to pick either my sister or me up. The magic word was shish kabob and thinking about it now gives me a little comfort. Thankfully we never had to use it and I will do the same thing when my son is a little older.

    I used to think that my dad’s safety precautions were over the top but now so many resonate with me. I walked to school growing up and I used to beg my parents for a backpack with my name embroidered on it but they refused, saying it would give the wrong people some dangerous information. Now I completely get it.

  24. Shannon says...

    Oh my, reading your comment “But not for a million more years, right?” brought me to tears. I have kiddos not much younger than yours and the idea of them as teenagers is just too much. I sure hope you’re still blogging as they hit the teenage years because I’ll continue to need your parenting wisdom & support for sure :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, shannon! it’s so fascinating how parenting feels so heartbreakingly nostalgic even as you’re in the moment.

  25. Karin says...

    What a great idea! We have a teenager and if your teen has a Samsung Galaxy phone, we just learned last night about a great feature: You can set it so that if your child presses the power button 3 times, the phone sends a text alert to pre-selected people that says ‘SOS. I NEED HELP”. Then it sends a map of the phone’s location, an image from both front and back phone cameras, and a 5-second audio clip of what’s happening around the phone.

    How did we learn this? My son (who sleeps with his phone) somehow pressed the button IN HIS SLEEP and we woke up in a panic! My husband rushed down the hall to find him asleep in his bed….

    Anyway, now that I’m recovered from my heart attack, thought I’d share this feature! there might be something similar on other phones. Worth investigating!

    • Sasha says...

      Wow, I am going to set up this feature on my phone. I’m the only one with a galaxy, kids have iphones…I wonder if there’s a similar feature?

      Thank you for sharing!

    • Amy says...

      I hadn’t heard of this! I’ll have to google for an iphone version of it.

  26. margie says...

    When I was younger, my word was Billygoat. I did feel so reassured knowing I had that secret code word to use should I need it. When I was older, I would initiate a conversation with my mom if I wanted to get out of a situation, but it would seem like I wasn’t. I would say, oh, my mom said I needed to check in by (whatever time). I would then start to argue with my mom on the phone, and she would know to argue back to make it seem authentic, for the sake of coming to get me. I could blame my mom, and it wouldn’t seem odd or like it was actually me wanting to get out of wherever I was. It was kind of awesome she did that for me.

  27. Kelly says...

    Love this!!! My parents had something very similar for my sister and I. ❤

  28. Sus says...

    Although I didn’t have a cell phone when I was a teenager, my dad always said that same thing! If I ever feel unsafe, made a bad decision, wanted to get out of something that made me uncomfortable, didn’t have a DD, etc. my dad said to call him and he would come get me anytime, anywhere, no questions asked. Even though I’m in my 30s, he still might. :) I never took him up on it, but it felt like a lifeline and empowered me in some situations to stand up for myself or others.

  29. Laurie says...

    Love it! We have the same thing for when we need to ask our son to just take a step back and chill out: “peace lily”- his choice. Sometimes when my husband and I get too heated HE reminds us by looking at us and saying “peace lily”, so it is really great when it can go both ways.

  30. Ann says...

    Our code word growing up and now with my own kids is “blueberry muffin”. I did once need to call my parents from a sleepover and ask if they had purchased the blueberry muffins. They came and got me right away, no questions asked. There really wasn’t anything bad happening but I was only 12 and just felt uncomfortable with some of the “sexy topics” being discussed. My kids haven’t used it yet but it’s there and we’ve discussed it.

  31. Andrea says...

    When my sister and I lived together after college we had a text code “D or A?” for “dead or alive?” since going out at night often ended in staying over with friends, etc. and you sometimes just forget to let your roommate know. She went out way more than I did and getting that “A” text was reassuring when she wasn’t home the next morning.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, andrea.

  32. K# says...

    Our code word when I was young was “Destiny.” That was our cat’s name.

  33. Jelly says...

    This might be my favourite post yet, especially with the comments. I’ve never had the privilege of trusting my parents when I grew up and my biggest fear is that my daughter (still in belly) might not trust me too :( Joanna, could you write a post on how you handle the boys when they’re difficult or naughty or when they fight? Do you scold them? How do you discipline them? How do you resolve fights?

    • LiZ says...

      Yes! Would love to see an article on discipline techniques that work for you – I feel like I’m desperately grabbing at random methods with no success!

    • Alissa M. says...

      I have twin boys about to turn six years old, and we don’t use discipline with them. We are so happy with the kind and generous temperaments they have now that we really feel good about our approach, even though it is a little unconventional. I don’t know how much of their good behavior is because of our parenting and how much is just good luck, but I will tell you about our approach anyway!

      The way we resolve difficult moments (bickering, refusing to put dishes in the sink after a meal, whining) is by giving them the scaffolding they need to get through it. Sometimes that means doing 90% of the task with them while they do 10% independently, because sometimes a child really is too tired or too distracted to do all of what you are asking. Sometimes it means getting right down at eye level with an angry, screaming preschooler and asking quietly and kindly with open arms, “Do you need a hug?” (That one stopped most tantrums for my boys.) If there is tension between the two children, we give them words to say to each other (instead of “You NEVER let me use that Lego!” we give them the words, “When will it be my turn?” and help them ask).

      An example of scaffolding to get chores done: When they were four years old, we had a period when they didn’t want to take their dishes to the sink after meals, so we made a game of it and each child would lay on the floor with his dish on his belly and I would drag him by the legs to the kitchen (giggling the whole way, obviously), right up to the sink, and then he’d stand up and put the dish in the sink. For a few days it was extra work for me to drag two silly, giggling boys to the kitchen by their legs, but it reaffirmed that we each do our job without getting into any kind of power struggle over it. It helps build the muscle-memory of behaving well instead of escalating into conflict.

      The idea is that an angry moment is not a teachable moment. Children don’t learn to behave kindly or do their part caring for their home and family by being punished. They learn by being kind and caring for their home and family every day and seeing those behaviors modeled by their adults. So in those moments when they aren’t able to meet those expectations, we meet them where they are and support them to getting their feelings back under control with warmth and firmness.

    • Amy says...

      I know in the past she’s recommended the book Siblings Without Rivalry – I bought it (and the other book the authors wrote; How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk) and love them! So insightful. I ended up having so many realizations of how “normal” parenting tricks can actually backfire with siblings, and concrete suggestions to use instead.

  34. I read the X thing on Facebook the other day and loved it. My boys are just 5 and 2 right now, but important to think of strategies and have them firmly in place before they might be needed. Am off to decide on our code word!!

  35. AB says...

    Well Joanna when they are teenagers I hope I’ll still be reading! xx

  36. Heather says...

    I love the code word idea; the X plan article has been making the rounds! My daughter is only 2, but I’m hoping she learn that she can always count on me for help. My dad always told my siblings and me that we could call him from anywhere in the world, and he would help us get home – his grandma has told him the same thing when he was a boy! Of course, he also told my sister and me that if we ever didn’t want to go out with someone, we could say that he had to ask our dad first, and Dad would be the bad guy and tell him no. When I was 16, this guy from our church (that I wasn’t interested in at all) asked me out on a date, and I told him demurely “you’ll have to ask my dad.” He did ask, and my dad felt bad for the guy and told him okay! Ugh, awkwardness ensued…

    • Rue says...

      My mom pulled this ALL the time, it was great. I’d be like, “oh sounds cool, let me just check with my mom….” and then I’d go tell my mom I didn’t want to do the thing and she’d be like, “aw shucks, I’m not sure I’m comfortable having you go to that thing!”

  37. While I don’t have kids of my own right now, I love reading articles like this for that special “one day.” What great advice, too!

    I can’t help but think of another tip you pointed out (maybe years ago?) to teach children to place their hand on yours when you are speaking with another person to let you know they need you, instead of blatantly interrupting. Genius and so polite!

    • Louisa says...

      I have a two year old and I remembered this from Cup of Jo and just taught it to her. She loves it! – It’s pretty great. Especially during dinner – she starts to interrupt and I place her hand on my arm and she remembers and waits.

  38. Kim says...

    Great post! I’m a pediatrician and we always go over the basics around the time a child starts school: they need to know the name of their parents/guardians, a reliable phone number, and their address! Kids remember songs better so I always encourage parents to try coming up with a sing-song way to remember all this information.

  39. I saw the ‘X’ article late last week & immediately sent it to my husband saying “Remember this for when our girls are older”. I love its simplicity and think the “no questions asked” clause is brilliant.
    I hope when my girls are older I’m one of those mums that they feel they can confide in, so they’ll actually want to tell me what was going on that necessitated the X, but even if I’m not this is one tool Im definitely implementing.

  40. Andrea Block says...

    My mom always told me that I could call her to come pick me up and she wouldn’t ask any questions, but I knew I couldn’t trust her on that (she would have been furious), so I never would have taken her up on it (and thankfully never needed to). She’s a troubled person and was a really erratic and unstable mother. I suppose my point is that it’s not enough just to offer a plan; there has to be a foundation of trust there too. I hope I’m building that with my daughters who are 4 and 6 months now, so they will rely on me.

  41. Katherine says...

    My best friend and I have had this for the past thirteen years! It started way back in high school, when we started to go to parties and to drink. The code was “my shoulder hurts,” and we agreed that it would only work if we treated it as a total veto. If one of us came up to the other and said “my shoulder hurts,” then the other person HAS to leave with them. No questions asked. We’ve only had to use it twice, but each of those times it was incredibly useful to be able to communicate “we have to leave, now” without having to say it.

  42. Lisa says...

    I grew up in a very small and safe town in Sweden, where pretty much everyone knew my parents or where the parents of someone in my school – “stranger danger” was something I knew about from movies more than anything. We did of course talk about it, but since I already “knew everyone” I would NEVER speak to strangers, even when there was no danger haha! I had a flexible cerfew growing up, it changed depending on what day of the week it was or what I was doing. When I became 15 I attended my first party and was allowed to go there AND stay at my friends house after, as long as I promised I wouldn’t drink. I kept my promise as I felt that my parents had trusted me enough to let me go there already. “We trust you until you give us a reason not to”, they said.

    Another good think that I will be forever thankful for, is that they never got angry when I told them something – this was I would always be comfortable to tell them things instead of keeping things from them in fear. Of course I didn’t tell them everything, but my friends did haha! So yeah, my mom knows most about all my friends and a lot about me, and she could for sure get her point across without getting angry.

  43. My husband and I have a code word for when one of is being boring/repetitive/bitchy (in other words, when one of us needs to stop talking and think about what the hell it is we’re saying!) and it’s MOOSE! This code word has saved us a lot of hurt feelings and arguments over the years, and when your partner yelps “moose” in the middle of a conversation it’s kinda funny :-)

    http://www.thislifeisbelle.com

    • Kate says...

      Haha, I love it!

  44. Becky says...

    My parents had a simple rule for my brothers and I as teenagers (way before cell phones!): If we found ourselves in a an uncomfortable situation we could call them anytime and just say we needed a ride and they would come get us, “no questions asked.” If we opted not to call for help and did wind up getting in some sort of trouble, they promised us there would be LOTS of questions asked. They hoped that we would learn to recognize a bad situation early on and get out of it, and their technique usually worked. My brothers and I all called a time or two, right into young adulthood; my parents came and got us and kept their word about not asking any questions. As we got older there was an addendum to this rule, which was that if we were hanging with a crowd that starting doing something illegal we should call immediately, because if we ended up in jail we should use our one phone call to get in touch with someone OTHER than them My older brother figured out they meant business the hard way when he got arrested at a party and they let him sit in jail for the weekend.

  45. Chelsea says...

    I am constantly referencing fat tulip & whenever I do people look at me like a dog that is being shown a card trick.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahahahahaha

  46. I read this as well and thought the X idea is brilliant! I am saving this one in my back pocket. I think no matter what your method is, coming up with a way to keep the communication safe and open with our kids is a great idea!

    xo Lendy
    http://www.twoplusluna.com

  47. Juliette says...

    We didn’t really have anything like that, but my Dad was always game to come pick us up – at absolutely anytime, no question asked. My friends would make fun of my dad showing up in his pajamas – although he almost always waited in the car – at random parties, people’s houses or at our usual appointed meetup place: in front of the flower shop! Knowing I would always have a safe ride home was very comforting growing up. I do feel bad now, realizing I probably took advantage of this and had him come pick me up more than once a little drunk at 2 am!

  48. Josephine says...

    It’s a great idea, and one I plan to implement with my two lads once they get to that stage!
    Fat Tulip was one of my favourite shows when I was younger. It was kind of lost in the mists of my mind for years, but came back to the fore recently when I was reading about Tony Robinson’s body of work. I found an episode on YouTube, and was blown away by how Tony could conjure an imaginary world of different characters using only funny voices. Genius. (I’m a big fan of Tony Robinson!) As well as Fat Tulip, I remember watching Banana Man, Danger Mouse and Trapdoor (that would be a good codeword)!

  49. We also had a family code word as a kid: lemons. We never had to use it, but I remember being in the family home basement and having a talk about why we might need it, when we could use it, etc. I was both scared to need a word (an incident had happened at the school recently) and safe knowing I had a plan. I never thought to employ this method with my kids now, in a situation beyond stranger-danger. But the idea that my teen could use a simple word to ask for help is such a great idea. Incidentally, my husband and I have a code phrase. It’s a long story…but when the buffalos graze at noon…we leave a party/dinner/function, no questions asked. It’s almost fun to see how we can fit it into dinner party banter. :) Amy

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      these marriage code words are making my day. such fun :)

  50. Elizabeth says...

    I was one of those rare kids who felt totally comfortable opening up to my parents. I remember breaking up with my boyfriend at the prom and instead of spending the night at my best friend’s like I had planned, I drove the twenty minutes home at 1am to wake my parents up so they could sit with me while I cried and told them about what happened. Of course I hope my own kids will one day feel as comfortable with me, but I know that isn’t always likely. I think these code words are awesome–and the Xplan highlights the necessity of having such a thing for teenagers, even. They are perhaps most in need of their parents and most unwilling to admit it, after all.

  51. Alyssa says...

    Whenever a date would come pick me up in high school, my parents would make a point to say, “she knows her curfew.” That meant that if I was having a good time, I’d be home at midnight. If I wasn’t, I could set my curfew at any time I wanted. Once I was on such a dud of a date that I pulled the curfew cared and didn’t realize it was only 9:30 until I was already at home in my pajamas. Whoops!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha that is awesome!

    • Anne says...

      That’s an AWESOME plan! Cool parents…

    • Jean says...

      Did your date never ask you what time your curfew was? I feel like that would be my immediate thought if I was hanging out with someone who I just found out had a curfew.

  52. Cara says...

    I LOVE this. Related: When my partner was growing up, his family employed a family whistle. If someone got separated from the family at an amusement park or big box store (or whatever), they were to wander around whistling the (somewhat frenetic, requiring of above-average whistling skills) family whistle, and theoretically someone else would hear and come to the rescue. Maybe this contributed to one brother in the family growing up to become a jazz musician. Our three-year-old son is too small to whistle, but we plan to use this, too (maybe with a simpler whistle, though).

    • Courtney says...

      We have a family whistle too! And I can’t whistle- a source of great frustration growing up. When we go visit my parents my dad still does it to get my attention and my parents both do it to find each other at the grocery store.

    • Catherine says...

      My boyfriend’s family does this too and it is so so so useful. We use it on my parents all the time and it never works, but it’s perfect for finding each other in the store or (we live in Amsterdam now) telling him to slow down on his bike! My 30-year-old brother can’t whistle, so I guess they got lucky that everyone can! I love it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so cool!! love this.

  53. I wish I would have had a system like this growing up. I never felt comfortable going to my parents for help for fear I would get in trouble or worse, they would be disappointed in me. Not to fault them–they were generally untrusting, scared, and unsure of themselves; they did the best they could. But when I think of my children, all I want is for them to feel comfortable reaching out to us. I love this idea as it almost feels like a kind of secret language that only “the tribe” has access to. It’s magical and somewhat spiritual in nature to know there is this code that can never be broken, and will always keep you safe.

    • Cazmina says...

      Me too! I wasn’t a particularly naughty teenager, but there were a few nights where I lied about parties etc. If anything had gone wrong, the last thing I would have done is call home because I knew I would have been in so much trouble. I know it was just out of fear for my safety (how many times did I hear “it’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I don’t trust other people”!) but I think in the end the fear actually leads to more dishonesty. I definitely plan to have a “no questions asked, but we can talk if you want” policy when the time comes.

  54. Sue Harris says...

    We had a policy with our daughter (now 27) that she could call at any time and ask us to pick her up. She called once, at 2:00 in the morning and we went to pick her up, no questions asked. She was a senior in high school and had gone to her class scavenger hunt and all night party hosted by one of the class parents. We heard later that some kids (including our daughter) left when one classmate offered them drugs. Thank goodness she felt secure enough to call us.

  55. Juliana says...

    I think a code word would’ve been very useful for me. My parents and I didn’t have one and I specially remember a time my brother and I were at a play-date at a house we have never stayed before, (friend’s of my parents) and their son was making me uncomfortable. I was around 12 yo, and my mom called to say she was not going to make it on time because she had an event with my dad very late in the evening, she asked if it would be ok for us to stay-over, I did’t know how to tell her I didn’t want to sleep there I just kept saying “but maybe you can pick us up afterwards” but I think she didn’t get the message. We ended up staying over and everything was fine at the end, but I wished we had a “secret-word” so my mom would know I really wanted to go home.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that must have been really hard!

  56. Nancy says...

    I have a 16 year old daughter and we have a plan somewhat like this….with one true flaw. I would ask her for an explanation the next day – or (I’m embarrased to admit) sometimes the night of. After reading this father’s post over the weekend and reflecting on the no questions asked policy – I now understand that her safety is my true goal. Not what happened? Not who was involved? Not what was involved? Having her home and knowing that the next time she needs help, her family will be there without fail and without the third degree – that’s success. xoxo

  57. we did have a family code word for pickup, but not to leave a situation. i like it.

    we had a friend code phrase, where if one of us wanted to leave where we were hanging out, to try and gauge whether my other girlfriends were ready, we would say “my those pointsettias smell lovely.” clearly this must have started at xmas, lol. to this response, one could say i don’t smell anything…which would mean she isn’t ready to leave yet, or confirm, yes they certainly do, and we’d head out. once our other friends found out this code, however, it became rude to use. we still joke about it like 15 years later, though.
    b

  58. My mom and I used the code word “Bunny Hop”. It was a nickname that was so left of center and random that it worked as our “stranger danger” word for years.

  59. Your family is so incredibly sweet. Love the family photos.

  60. Beth Stevens says...

    Yep, my boy’s code word was “barn door.” We used before they would open a door to strangers, pickups at school, etc. Once on my way to pick the up from school and had a car accident. I was able to phone a friend to pick them up, she told them I said, “barn door” and they knew that everything was OK. It is an easy way to put everyone at ease.

  61. Dina says...

    FINALLY, a motherhood post for those of us who no longer have infants or toddlers. Those babes do grow up, yet most blogs avoid adolescent topics. Not as endearing or cute? On behalf of all the moms of preteens and teens, thanks for remembering us. We have fears, worries, celebrations, and stories to tell, too. Can’t wait to share this post with my almost 13 year old.

    • Rachel says...

      Dina, Agreed! I realize that parenting small children is many things and is physically exhausting. To my surprise though, I have found that parenting my 18 year old son is the hardest thing I have ever been through and there is a decided lack of blogging going on around this stage of life. It is hard. I often feel ashamed, like I’ve done it incorrectly (though my head tells me that isn’t so, my heart aches from it many days). I do wish I had employed some of these tactics with my son when he was younger – not that it’s too late now. I also have a 15 year old son and am working this into our lives right away.

  62. I love the this idea! When you said the code word was fat tulip – I thought, that rings a bell! We used to watch that program too! It was pretty bizarre but we loved it. Tony Robinson, who narrated it and probably wrote it, is still on TV a lot in the UK. X

  63. Justine says...

    I was given that article to read (dad’s modern day method) by a friend this weekend, and we’ve given this to our son. He is beginning to be out in the world on his own more often now, and it is such a good safety net for him. I hope he will never need it, but feel more comfortable knowing we have a system to use if necessary.

  64. Lauren C says...

    Yes! We had a code phrase! Ours was “Ton and Pon”, which also sounds a bit silly like Fat Tulip, but was easy to remember as children. It was the name of one of our favorite books, written by a Japanese author, about two dog friends who have a heavy load to carry and work together to share that load… which then feels a whole lot lighter. I’d say it’s a perfect code word for a tough situation that you might need your parent to help you out of, yes? :) Thanks for bringing up a special memory.

  65. Vera says...

    My parents always said we could use them as excuses to bow out of unpleasant social situations (whether serious or just meh). This worked until high school, by which point half of my peers had had either my mom or dad as a teacher, and they knew how super relaxed they were. “My parents won’t let me” was obviously BS coming from my siblings and I, so we ended up being extremely honest or lying our butts off to avoid social situations we disliked!

  66. Gina says...

    I really really wish I had something like this when I was younger. I am the child of immigrant parents and they always put the fear of God in me. I never felt comfortable to open up to them about ANYTHING. (Luckily, our relationship is solid now that I’m an adult and we are very close) I remember in high school there were many nights of either lying, sneaking out, lots of drinking, not having a ride home..and my parents were the last people I would ever think to call to save the day. I knew it would only make things worse. Luckily I had an older sister with a drivers license who would swing by, get me and listen to my drama :)

  67. Ana says...

    We still do! Even as grown-ups. The code was and still is to ask how our maternal grandmother (no longer with us) is currently doing during a phone conversation by specifically saying her first name. A bit morbid but this is a pretty natural topic of conversation that would not be too obvious to a stranger. This would prompt my mom or sister to ask yes or no questions and whoever was called would eventually come to the rescue. Fortunately, I have never had to use it. Only my mom, my sister and I know the code. It is nice to know we have each other back although since we are now living on three different continents the code is not super relevant and more of a way to remember our teenage years and give a nod to my awesome grandmother.

  68. Isa says...

    I love the non questions asked approach! I was a rock’n’roll teenager, lots of parties and some troubles, but definitely would have managed a few situations better if I knew I’d not shock my parents w/ some stuff.
    Also, siblings are the best! And family in general :) cousins and my big sister were always keeping an eye on me, and I on them. But I think if I ever have kids I’ll try to be more open so they can trust me more at that age. Also my father also always gave me extra money for the taxi back home – sometimes I used it for something else (rebel teenager again) but I had it if I needed. They kept an extra eye on me, and I hated it at the time but I’m thankful now they did. Definitely saved me some troubles! The others were part of my growing up, and now we are as close as possible <3

  69. Kara says...

    I love this. Our code word was “no allowance”. It worked wonders in all situations, and my brother and I never forgot it.

  70. jen says...

    Nope. My parents were older and strict. Even if I had been arrested I wouldnt have called them. The kids in my family were therefore very independent and self sufficient.

    • Courtney says...

      With all due respect, I think you missed the point of this post. Not all cases in which a “safe” word would be useful can be controlled. In fact, the scenario you offer – being arrested – lends no reason for the use of a “safe” word. Whether your parents would bail you out of jail is an another topic entirely. Safe words are not about fooling the person you’re calling (your parents in this case); it’s about fooling those around you … fooling your bad situation. Independence and self sufficiency aren’t badges to be worn at the expense of personal safety.

    • Mariela says...

      Courtney, I think she is saying she didn’t grow up feeling trusting or safe reaching out to her parents the way that this system requires. So she had to find other ways to take care of herself. You may have been lucky to have parents you felt completely comfortable with, but she is speaking to her experience.

    • jen says...

      Mariela is right. One of Reagan’s kids spoke for me when she told a story about running out of money in college one month, didnt eat for a week and said, “I knew better than to call my parents.” Most of the people here talk about someone coming to pick them up and knowing a ‘safe word.’ In our time, no one but your parents picked you up. and frankly, we didnt need our parents to get us out of a drunken party or where drugs were being used. Again, our parents were not the non judgmental types, and we preferred to take care of everything ourselves. So we were not calling them asking for advice/help/rescue. And know what? That was a good thing.

  71. This is so so helpful to think about. My baby is just 5 months now, but someday I want to establish something like this.

    It’s interesting. I think a weird code word or phrase makes perfect sense when you are sending someone to pick up your kids that they may not know or may not remember having met before. But when it comes to being somewhere you don’t want to be or where you don’t feel safe, it makes better sense to have both a VERBAL and TEXT signal that can be easily worked into conversation or typed onto a phone key pad. I’m thinking now that maybe my child might be in a situation where they need to send me a text but don’t want to be seen sending it. The “X” is great, but what if you can’t look at your phone to find “X”? Maybe something like “slsjdihbnbogsweklsdlvhwlkdgh” or any long, random series of letters (like a butt text!) would be a good way to say “CALL ME NOW AND GET ME OUT OF HERE” to any member of your family. Something verbal could be any pre-determined answer to a question that anyone listening might think you were asked over the phone… something like “I put it in my bottom drawer” or “No, it’s not this weekend – it’s NEXT weekend” or whatever. I know that if I was talking to my child and they started giving me an answer to a question I didn’t ask, I’d know something was up.

    • Also — if your “HELP ME” text to family looks like nothing more than a long butt text (just like with “X”), it’s easily explained if your friend or date or whomever happens to see your phone.

    • Mae says...

      GREAT points, Stacy! I just mentally filed this! Thank you! :)

  72. Lisa says...

    I think these are great ideas! Growing up, discipline from my strict parents was scarier than than any number of awkward, or potentially dangerous situations I encountered with friends, boys, or alone. It is so important that trust exists between parents and their children, and that children can trust parents to advocate for them or protect them, without judgement, when necessary.

  73. Alison says...

    I love this. I don’t have kids (and am not planning on it), but I so appreciated having this growing up. We didn’t have a code word per say, but my dad always said “make us the bad guys”. So, if someone called and invited me to a party or even just to something I didn’t want to go to, I could lay on this story about how “my parents wouldn’t let me, they were just the worst!” … instead, we were staying in as a family watching movies and making homemade pizza in our sweatpants. I’m an introvert and it always helped having a back up plan in case I didn’t want to do something social ;) I didn’t use it much, but just knowing I could made life as a teen a lot easier.

  74. YES! I was just reading about that guy. Genius. We didn’t have anything like that and in retrospect I wish we did. Totally doing this with my kiddos when they’re older.

  75. Lauren E. says...

    My family is not overly gushy or emotional, but we definitely did not have any of this secret code word stuff or any “no questions asked” policies!

    I will never forget my first experience drinking, when I was around 17, and I felt sick the next morning. My mom picked up on my weird actions and broke down in tears in our kitchen. She said, “I don’t know what’s wrong, Lauren! Are you drinking? Doing drugs? Did you have your first sexual experience?!” Needless to say I made sure I didn’t let her in on anything in my life that was remotely scandalous after that! Luckily we’re really close now :)

  76. Katie_B says...

    My parents also had the “pick up, no questions asked” policy when my siblings and I were teenagers – it really did feel like a safety net. My friend’s mom also told her, she could always blame her mom for being strict/crazy as an excuse for saying no to something. The mom said, “I don’t care what the kids at school think of me, so if blaming your crazy mother makes it easier for you to get out of a activity you don’t want to be a part of, do it!”

  77. Kim says...

    I also read that article on the weekend and thought it was great. I have 3 boys …Gr 12, Gr 9 and Gr 6. We have always had the system of them reaching out by text or phone if needing to come immediately home, and also being able to blame me for anything, but they just have to remember to tell me when they do (my almost 18y.o has sometimes forgotten this & I am completely unaware he’s used me as an excuse for something)! We have very clear rules around drinking (legal age 19 years in Canada) and our household expectations, but open lines of communication as growing up is tough (esp in this era of social media) and they will make mistakes. We have put Uber on both of their phones so they can quietly get home safely at any time. My 18 y.o. has done this multiple times now. Other great tip given to us by my brother-in-law (recovering alcoholic who had trouble in highschool with peer pressure), is to have ready made excuses to some situations so they do not feel on the spot to make something up at the time (& then maybe get pressured into something as he did). He also has told them they can call him to come get them or for help anytime, if they just need that slightly younger adult presence over their father and I:) I cannot believe my boys have grown so quickly….I thought they would never get here some days when they were young ! I look at your pictures and think of how quickly Toby and Anton will grow…..

  78. Anna says...

    This is such a great idea!

    Growing up, we had a code word too (“bunny”). My parents told us that we were never, ever to tell someone else what our code word was, and I took that very, very seriously. To this day, some twenty-five years later, I still feel a funny twinge when I say the word “bunny” in conversation – like I’m telling an important secret that I’d sworn never to reveal.

  79. I didn’t have a system like this growing up, but I tended to stay away from “risky” situations, i.e. parties, etc.. I love the idea of the “no questions asked” approach though. I know people think parents have the right to know everything about their kids, but on the flip side, I believe if you want your children to be open and honest with you (especially in potentially dangerous or uncomfortable situations), that you have to make them feel safe talking to you. If they fear your judgment or punishment, they’re probably more likely to stay in sticky situations without reaching out for help.
    Of course, I’m not a parent yet, so what do I know? Haha.
    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  80. Ramona says...

    My grandparents set up a sort of code fact with their children: that camels are the only animal with nucleated red blood cells (there’s some story about why this came to be, but I can’t remember what it is). So if someone ever came to pick them up at school and said their parents had sent them, for example, if that person couldn’t tell you what animal has nucleated red blood cells then you’d know it wasn’t for real. My mom and her siblings wound up passing the code onto their own kids, so now the whole extended family is in on the code phrase. I don’t know how useful it would be in an actual emergency (I have to chuckle at the thought of a would-be kidnapper being stymied with a question about camel blood), but it’s fun to have a family inside joke.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, that is awesome. i love all these fun facts!

  81. shelley says...

    we didn’t have a code word but my mom always just knew. we could call her and say hey, and she would begin asking a series of yes or no questions that way it wasn’t obvious who we were speaking to or what about.

    Are you okay?
    Do you want to come home?
    etc.

    it always made me feel so good knowing I could call her and no one would know that I was too homesick to spend the night or whatever was happening that made me feel uncomfortable. thankfully i never had to use it for anything too scary.

    now my friends know that my code word is decaf coffee…if I call you and say oh I’m just getting some decaf coffee, then you know i have clearly been kidnapped because i would never drink decaf coffee. :)

  82. Christina says...

    I love this! I live in the same city as my “little” cousin, who is now a senior in high school, and my “big” cousin, who is in her mid-30s. A few years ago, we sat baby cousin down for a chat and told her that she could text or call us, anywhere, anytime, and we would come pick her up, no questions asked. We talked through some party dangers and shared some of our own experiences from high school/college. It’s such an important conversation to have!

  83. I like this concept of code words. Every kid should have these code words to avoid any mishappening.

  84. Jenny Johnson says...

    I was an extremely shy child and the trust I had in my mum to “read the situation” like this felt like my lifeline. If I was on a playdate (even with a close friend) I would be too nervous to say that I was ready to go home, or that I didn’t want to stay for dinner. I knew I could count on my mum to call and check-in. She’d ask me yes/no questions that I could respond to comfortably. I grew out of it eventually, but I still remember how overwhelming and emotional it felt to be a shy child. Knowing I had a proxy in my mummy was the best. She was my PR agent. Love you, mama!

  85. Growing up I had a password that my Mom would give to someone if she had to send someone outside my family to pick me up. Certainly made me feel safe <3

    xx

    bombshell-to-be.blogspot.com

  86. Alisha says...

    Ha, we never had a “safe” word and thankfully didn’t need one, but we had a code word/alert for when one of us was on our period and needed backup supplies. We would casually mention that Aunt Florence (Flow-rence) was coming to visit and the other person would just know what to do. It’s a more known, popular expression now than it was then so it’s not as novel. Makes me giggle.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha that’s awesome, alisha!

  87. I love this idea! I remember having moments as a kid where I wanted to get out of a situation but didn’t want to share with my parents why. Having that level of privacy is so important so that your kids are comfortable reaching out for help! PS – “Fat Tulip” may be the cutest code word ever :)

    Thanks for sharing!

    Christina | http://www.cuddlepill.com

  88. My mother was an eager and patient listener. Every single day I’d come home from school and she would sit with me as I poured my heart out. She even wrote me a poem for my 12th birthday that was full of specific details about school and my life – things she understood from all that patient listening. Looking back, I understand now what an impact that had on me, and how important that support was.

  89. Alyssa Leister says...

    My parents and I had a code word in case I had to get picked up by someone. We never used it but to this day, I think we’d still be able to use it and know something was going on.

    We never had a code word if I was in trouble and needed picked up, but my mom always said I could call and she’d get me no questions asked. Or if I needed to tell her something but didn’t want her to judge or offer advice, I could say so and she’d listen without commenting. I’ve done that a couple times and it’s always nice having that option. <3 Awesome moms {and dads!} for the win!

  90. Rebecca says...

    My mom-in-law emailed me that exact link last week! Our kids are the same age as yours, but it is such a good tip to have in my back pocket for future years.

    Also – I have virtually the same shoes as Toby, just navy all around. Haha!

  91. Clara says...

    we never had a codeword, but my mother was (still is) pretty intuitive about how we felt. What I like, looking back is that my parents never made a big deal about situations they “rescued” us from. I had a girlfriend whose dad was once nude in out presence and that made me quite uncomfortable. Instead of locking their child in the cellar (as my impulse today would be if my child told me a story like that), they gently suggested that my friend and I meet at our place.

  92. JennP says...

    Great advice. As parents to two small children, my husband and I talk about how to keep the lines of communication open so our children know we support them as they walk into the world of independence. I will share this post with him and hopefully another fruitful talk will emerge. Thank you.

  93. My family totally used this genius trick, too. Our word was “bubblegum”. I’m 34 now and recently, my mom had a short stay at the hospital. When we were getting her checked in, the nurse asked “is there a password you’d like to use, for family, if they call to check on you?” and without hesitating my mom said, “bubblegum”, and we both laughed. Even all these years later, it’s still our code word!

  94. Ashlee says...

    Oh my goodness! This looks like Toby (on the left) and Anton (on the right). What a striking similarity to you and your sister!

  95. CSRH says...

    Great advice and I wish I had that comfort and security, I definitely could have benefitted from it thinking back.

  96. liz says...

    I think adults need this too. My parents didn’t have a code word but my dad was always insisting we trust our gut and if something seemed wrong to just leave – not to worry about being “nice”. Plus my mother would always put guardian angels around us. Between the two somehow my siblings and I survived to adulthood.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what do you mean about guardian angels? that sounds so sweet!

    • Tunie says...

      Guardian angels from my mother too! While I was a teen she reminded me what she’d told me about as a little kid, that she regularly prayed my guardian angel would guide and protect me, (teens were very difficult for me). They are still working hard on my behalf, it seems to me though I am not remotely religious.

  97. Sarah says...

    My mum did something similar when I was a teenager – she left enough cash in a pot on the mantelpiece at home so that I could get a licensed cab back from anywhere in the city. This meant I never had to stay at any sketchy place or in any situation where I felt uncomfortable as I could always get home safe. It was a no-questions-asked deal and it made me feel a) supported and b) respected – if she trusted me enough to provide that back-up then I should repay that by trying to never be thoughtless about who I was with or where I went. I also meant she never got 4am phonecalls! I think I might have used it once. I will TOTALLY do the same for my kids one day.

  98. Alex says...

    Omg, we watched Fat Tulips as kids too! Such a funny and weird show (we aren’t British, no idea how my mom discovered the show).

  99. Baily says...

    This is too funny! My parents also gave me and my siblings a code word… “Toe Nail.” Recently, out of the blue, my mom asked me if I remembered it and without skipping a beat I did – I hadn’t thought about it in years! We also never had to use it, but it made me feel safe having it.

  100. My mom did have a code word for being picked up by a friend so we knew they could be trusted, but I don’t think we had one to get out of sticky situations. I will definitely use this with my kids!

    On a similar note, my husband and I have a code word for when we want to leave a party or event to have sex. It’s gotten me out of a few mind-numbing attorney dinners!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is really cute!!!!

  101. Mallory says...

    Our code word was Rumpelstiltskin, and was also given to adults who were unexpectedly picking us up. Such a strange word in retrospect, ha! A very strange fairy tale. But it made me feel safe!

  102. Mandy says...

    Great advice!

  103. Mollie says...

    We had a similar code phrase when I was a child, but used it a way that if someone came to pick me up from school because my mom couldn’t, or something similar, they had to say the secret phrase, that’s how I knew my mom had sent them. I guess cell phones fill those gaps these days.

    Also, as a teen my English teacher had us put her number in our phones at the beginning of the school year. She said if we ever needed her to come get us to give her a call. I’m not sure if anyone ever did call her, but I kept the number saved in my phone until I graduated from high school.

    • sidra says...

      Wow, that is an amazing teacher!

  104. Amy says...

    Yes. This is such a great plan to have. When I was a kid it was liahona. I remember my mom’s friend picking me up from school when I was about 10 and my mom was suddenly sick. I stood there wondering if I should go, does she know the word?, whould it be weird for me to ask?…. she never said it and my sister and I still went with her and all was as it should be…. but I still remember because of the dilemma I felt.

  105. Maureen says...

    Unrelated, but you look so much like your mom in that picture!

  106. I feel like no matter what rules/regulations parents put onto their children (no matter how harsh) children will still find ways to get around it and do what they want. Ultimately, it’s a two way road…. respect and love each other and let your kids explore a bit. Saying no (to alcohol, games etc…) won’t stop them from trying to sneak it behind your back

    • Helena says...

      To me this isn’t about rules and regulations but about helping our young to feel safe. Of course they’re going to do things we don’t want them to do, but how great to help them to help themselves out of bad situations with a keyword! And like Joanna said, even if it’s never used it’s there in their back pocket, hopefully making them feel safe.

  107. Emily says...

    This is such a great idea. My little one is only 17 months and currently napping on me so I find it hard to imagine him ever being ‘big’. I hope I remember this for when he’s old enough to go out on his own.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww “currently napping” = so sweet!

  108. Emily says...

    I absolutely love this idea and will implement it with my almost 10 year old–both the safe word and the “x” text (when he has a mobile phone). While we haven’t done a code word, I have done one thing that I think has helped my child feel safe in our home, and develop emotional maturity and executive functioning when emotions run high. When he was a toddler, “time out” never felt ok to me-it always escalated things, led to hitting or kicking or screaming, etc. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and my parents’ method of coping with any emotion that didn’t exactly fit what they were feeling at the time was to put me in my room, alone. The message to me felt like: If you feel any extreme emotion, you will be placed alone, outside of the group, until you figure that out. I cannot even begin to detail all the ways that DIDN’T help me. Years of therapy later, including work with an incredible therapist when my son was a toddler, led me to take the opposite approach. Rather than “time out” I practiced “time in.” If my child was melting down or freaking out, I would sit with him. I would say, I can see you are having trouble and I will be right here for you while you feel this way. We can talk but we don’t have to. It’s a non judgmental approach-I never tell him how he should feel in response to a situation or declare that how he is feeling is wrong. The results have been semi-miraculous for me and for my child. I am raising a child who isn’t afraid to have strong emotions and who can have them, move through them, and come out to the other side with a clearer perspective. And I am SO PROUD to mother this way! Through this method of mothering, I have learned that another person’s emotions and expression of them is just that-theirs! It doesn’t detract from me or my point of view in any way. My therapist always told me that through parenting, you can repeat or repair. Through remaining beside my child in emotional upheaval, I have repaired my self-the little girl who was put alone in a room when she was sad or angry. While I know my child won’t always want me in the room as he grows older, I love this idea of implementing another system that allows me to “be present” should he need me. Thanks!

    • Megan says...

      I don’t agree with timeouts, but I can’t always articulate why. Your insightful comment gives me that language now. Thank you!

    • Mandy says...

      I LOVE this. Does anyone with multiple children have any advice on practically implementing this? I can’t imagine how I could consistently practice this way of gentle parenting with both my 4 year old and 2 year old (who both have big feelings… don’t we all!), also with a baby on the way!

    • Mandy, yes! I’m struggling with that right now. It can be really hard to give attention to a freaking out older child while juggling a baby… Though when I can it really does help. Trying to figure this out…

    • Wow, I am so blown away by this insight! Although I have wonderful parents who I know always meant well, I was a difficult/very active oldest child that resulted in a lot of time spent in time out/spankings as a way to try and correct my misbehavior. As I got older I never felt comfortable sharing with my parents when something went wrong and resulted in a lot of fighting and a pretty strained/rebellious relationship with them as a teen. Although we are close now, I still feel that same feeling in different situations with them, and I wonder how your approach might have helped. I am locking this away for when I have children of my own, as I never want them to feel alone with their feelings.

    • Emily says...

      To those with multiple children, I don’t know practically how you might do this-maybe there is some way to all “time in” together and to even name the practice for the kids so they can help “time in” with one another-I know those ages like to help and it also might help them take some pressure off of their own feelings if you are all sort of in it together. Would love to hear how you make out with it. It’s certainly more complex to implement if you have more than one child. I will say, sometimes I end up having to “time in” with my son and husband if they are butting heads together and I am not involved. It’s a lot of sitting on the floor of a child’s bedroom and resisting the urge to “fix” or “correct.” But certainly a child at 2 and a child at 4 have different needs even in how we listen to them.

      To Caitlin-that was my same experience with my parents. In times that I have really needed them, in times of emotional crisis, I am not likely to reach for them first. I may have dealt more positively with some major teenage challenges if that was not the case. While that seems sad to me at face value, as an adult I have been able to find people who will be present during times of crisis. The thing I have had to unlearn is that when I struggle most, I should resist the urge to close off and put myself in a time out and instead reach out to find the safe people, the listeners.

      xo

    • Carrie says...

      What a neat thing to share! I tell ya, the comments alone are reason enough to be a regular reader of this blog! I don’t have any children but I will someday, and I feel like I learn so much from all you great mamas!

    • Angela says...

      We use timeouts occasionally in our house, but for a completely different reason. I have an introverted eldest child, who sometimes is overwhelmed by things. We have explained to him that he can have timeouts to collect himself and have a moment alone. He can choose to be completely alone or have one of us with him. I think it is empowering for him because we respect his personality and gives him some control over himself and the situation.

      I do, however, agree with your dislike for timeouts as a disciplinary measure. I used to teach preschool, and the only reason I ever separated kids from the group was if they were going to cause someone else harm. Even then, they weren’t truly alone. I or my assistant were always close at hand to help work out feelings.

    • annemarie says...

      I have 3 kids with feelings the size of small moons, and I handle “time-ins” in two ways (and often imperfectly): if one child is having all the feelings and one of the others needs me, I ask them to wait while I help with the feelings. If two children are having feelings after an altercation, I sit with the wronged party and comfort them, but also include the other by engaging their feelings in the way that helps them. (One needs to fully express her feelings, one needs his feelings identified so he can process them, and one is so overwhelmed by her feelings that she needs to be a tempest for a while until we can get to the root of the problem. It is a lot in our house.) It’s not always easy, but it gets easier, especially as they develop an emotional vocabulary. I found that sorting out how they process feelings was the key to making it work with multiple kids. I hope this is helpful in some way!

    • Midge says...

      Mandy, Time In all together! If your four year old is sad/angry, hold your two year old and sit down on the floor next to the four year old and explain to your two year old, “X is feeling really sad/ mad. What can we all do together that will help him feel better?” Then make suggestions, maybe some silly ones, until you hit the one that your four year old likes. Same thing in reverse, with a little more modeling action and less talking. After doing this many times, sometimes my own two year old girl could only be comforted by her four year old brother (her favorite person in the universe, still, at ages 9 and 11, and I think it’s because we always all problem-solved together).

    • Six kids here, and we use “calm-downs” at our house–basically if the feelings are too much, I gently escort that child to another room, hand them a book or toy, and ask them to let me know when they are feeling calm and ready to talk. And I do the same thing when I get stressed–trying to model that sometimes you need to take a break, remove yourself from the stressor, and come back when you feel ready to do so. I never use a timer: I let the child (or adult in my case!) decide when they are calm. Sometimes it’s two minutes, sometimes twenty–I feel like this is especially helpful for my older kids.

    • I should also add that I am not trying to advocate for isolation as punishment here–this is just what works for our family!! My kids are older and sometimes we all just need a place to blow off steam instead of staying together saying hurtful things that we don’t actually mean.

    • sidra says...

      mind-opening idea that I will use from now on – thanks so much!

  109. Erin says...

    I love reading your posts about your boys, they are darling. I have two boys as well, just slightly younger than your two. We totally do “pajama walks”, an idea that came from one of your posts and my boys love them! Thanks for sharing.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh yay i love pajama walks!!! that’s awesome to hear :)

  110. Bets says...

    I love this plan. When I was growing up we would use the code phrase “how is Ginger”, who was our dog. If we asked that, my parents knew that we needed or wanted to be picked up from where we were but didn’t want to say so.

    • Mae says...

      That is a great one! It’s not one that sounds random, so no one would guess who might be listening!

  111. My parents didn’t have a code word, but vowed if we ever called and said we needed to be picked up they would come, no questions asked, even if we were drinking etc. And I actually used it one night when I was 17 and was supposed to sleepover a girls house. She had a party – I was mildly intoxicated and a group of mean girls started verbally attacking me. I called my dad crying and waited for him on the curb – he came, asked if I wanted to talk, I said no and he drove me home and brought me water in the morning. I’ll always be thankful I had that lifeline and never felt pressure to get into any car with anyone who was drinking.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet! i love that.

      it reminds me of this past comment from a reader named Jess: “My dad has a sixth sense for bad days, even if you’re trying to hide it. His answer was always the perfect fried egg sandwich. Quality bread, lots of mayo and the ideal egg, yolk runny enough to drip down your chin. When I was little, he’d make me one in the middle of the night if a had a nightmare like it was the most normal thing in the world. When I was sixteen, I went to a party to meet my crush and told my parents I was staying at a girlfriend’s house. At the party, I found my crush kissing another girl. I took a cab home at 2 a.m. smelling like keg and my parents certainly knew something was up. My dad could have questioned me about my lie, he could have yelled at me, but he just read my face and went straight for the kitchen. That was maybe the best fried egg sandwich I ever ate.”

      http://cupofjo.com/2016/09/weekend-round-up-of-links/

    • Leah says...

      It might be the hormones but that egg sandwich comment makes me want to cry. What an awesome dad!

    • Heather says...

      I think the – no questions asked, just get me outta here – system when it comes to drinking is huge. It makes me think of my time at Penn State, where students would avoid calling cops or EMTs at all costs, even if their friends were near death from over drinking, because Penn State has a policy where you’re not protected from getting arrested for drinking underage and/or providing alcohol if you make the call. So there’s not a culture of calling for help if it’s needed, as no one wants to face potential arrests. It’s terrible.

    • Carrie says...

      I can’t even imagine what that would be like. To have that kind of gentle backing and support. My dad made me feel like a slut on my 16th birthday because I’d already had my first kiss. I remember riding in the car with him to the grocery store or something, and him just laying into me. He made me feel like I had ruined my life.

  112. Our family code word was ‘avogadro’s number’ – though I don’t think any of us ever really knew if we were supposed to use the number or say the phrase. We never needed to use it but if we were ever in trouble, there’s no doubt we’d have sprung to action, immediately!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha i love that! it’s like, how are you supposed to work these phrases into normal conversation? :) “hi mom, i’m at kate’s house, and 6.022 × 10 23.”

    • Lin says...

      With our three children, we had them call and say that they had a bad headache. It is easy to work into a sentence and any friend eavesdropping, couldn’t really tell if they had a headache or not. Since we live in a urban area, we also had a meeting place, that wasn’t our house. The idea was that if you were locked out or whatever, they would go to the library a block from our home. That way they didn’t have to hang around alone outside to wait.

  113. Brianna says...

    This is so smart! I never had anything like this growing up, but it would have been useful sometimes. I was never in a very bad situation (thank goodness), but it would have been nice to have an escape sometimes.

  114. shannon says...

    100% unrelated to this (very good!) parenting tip, but I noticed your pretty eye makeup and glasses in the last photo! Are the glasses new?

    • shannon says...

      Aaaah I thought they looked like Warby Parkers. I love their design and how they give a pair away for every pair bought :) They look great on you!

  115. Althea says...

    In high school, I worked in a video store, and I was often alone for the closing shift. If I ever felt scared about a customer, or ran into any issue where I wanted my mom to come to the store, I was supposed to call her and say something like, “Hello. Is this Ms. Stein? I am just calling to let you know that the video you requested has been returned. You may come to the store anytime to pick it up.” The funniest part is that my mom was obsessed with “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on Comedy Central, so that’s why her code name was “Ms. Stein” (I realize a lot of this story dates me–video rentals and Win Ben Stein’s Money! haha)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, your mom sounds so awesome. :)

  116. I love this idea! I also love the ‘x’ idea and the no-questions asked aspect… I like to think I’d have used that more often as a teenager if I knew I didn’t have to explain myself or fear any repercussion for needing help in the first place. I also think siblings are invaluable in this context too: my brothers and I would always do this kind of thing as teenagers, and we still would now. No questions asked!

    Flora
    http://www.theeverchanginghome.com

  117. Sherree says...

    Our code word was “Blue Teddy”! It was our favorite beloved stuffed animal :) Our parents also gave that password out to trusted adults so that if someone other than our parents came to pick us up from school, we weren’t allowed to get in the car until they said “Blue Teddy”. I love Fat Tulip. Yay for fun, loving, creative parents that cared about our safety.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!! that was another element that i had forgotten about — adults would say it if there had been an emergency, to show us that they could be trusted.

  118. PH says...

    Our family’s “word” was Beatrice… as in “I forgot to tell you that Aunt Beatrice called earlier,” although no such person existed. I also never had to use it :)

  119. amy says...

    I love this! What a great idea

  120. Bekkah Sheetz says...

    My husband told me recently that when he was growing up his parents gave him a password so that if they were unable to pick him up from school or a friends house and had to send another adult, they would have to give the password before he would get into the car with them. If they didn’t know the password he would know not to leave with them. I thought that was an interesting idea!

  121. Laura says...

    I love this! My mom and I would do this same thing, except our word was Coco (Coco being my Grandma’s dog). If I ever asked about Coco in conversation, she knew I was ready to go home. I try to do this same thing with my friends now that I’m an adult. I think it’s important to always have a way out of negative situations. I’ve been known to call a friend while having a “freak out” and needing her immediate assistance to remove her from a bad situation. It’s good to have that available :)

  122. Sandra says...

    This has been circulating on my local parenting forum. It is interesting because there was something similar back when I was in high school. It was an agreement that kids were supposed to sign never to drink and drive or to ride with anyone who was drinking and driving. In return, the parents were supposed to agree to come pick you up whenever/wherever if you were ever in a bad situation with no questions or consequences. I asked my mom to sign, and she said that while she would always come get me if I needed help, there would definitely be questions and consequences if I was out drinking or out with people who were. Somehow that hard line let me know that she expected that I wouldn’t drink in high school. I know it could backfire with kids who get stuck in a situation and feel like they can’t call, but for me setting a hard limit kept me from trying alcohol until after I graduated from high school.

    • june2 says...

      My parents used the exact opposite approach! I was always offered a taste (a sip – beer or wine only -from their glass) on SPECIAL occasions like holidays from a very young age like, 5 or 6. By the time I was 12 or so, I could care less about alcohol. I got really drunk at my friends house when her parents were away exactly once at age 12 then forgot about it until adulthood. After exploring scotch as a newly minted 21 yr old, I now rarely drink and am grateful my parents were so natural about it.

    • Mallory says...

      My parents used the “of course you will not drink and if you do we will come get you but there will be consequences” approach. It was a factor of me not drinking in high school, but also a huge factor of not trusting them with many aspects of my early adulthood :/

    • Heather says...

      I know what you mean, Sandra – My parents had a zero tolerance policy to drinking in high school. My older siblings followed that, but by the time I was 17 or 18, I did bend the rules, and always got caught! But I do think I drank way less than I would have and less than other friends because of that rule. So I figure for when I’m a parent – better to have no allowances for it, knowing that the rules will be bent a little anyway.

    • Anne says...

      Same for me Mallory. I knew that if I called my mom to get me out of a bad situation, she would do it, but it would end with her shouting and crying, and with me getting grounded. So I just took care of myself and left my parents out of it. I wish I could have trusted them, but that would have involved them trusting me, which wasn’t going to happen.

    • L says...

      To add to the tally here, my parents took the chill approach to drinking like June2’s and it really worked for my sister and me. We were good girls for the most part anyway, but having the weight of their respect and high expectations while at the same time a no-questions-asked policy if we needed to get out of a bad situation worked and we never really got into bad situations. We were allowed to drink a little bit sometimes with them at home or with friends and it made sneaking around and getting drunk in secret way less desirable. And even when we left for college the desire to get crazy drunk wasn’t there because we knew how to drink responsibly and still have a good time.

  123. Rebecca says...

    What sweet photos of you all!

  124. This is amazing. Mind blown.

  125. My mom always told my older sister and I that we were more than welcome to blame anything on her and could make her look like the bad guy as much as we wanted. For example, I could text her something subtle about wanting to leave and then she would call my cell and silently wait on the other end as I would (looking back — probably a little over-dramatically) say things like “What? But mom, I want to stay! Why do you have to pick me up *IMMEDIATELY*?! Ughhh… I can’t believe this… You really are the worst!” She probably took a beating in the reputation department with my friends, but she could have cared less. She’s the best.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww, i love that about moms — always willing to take the fall for us!

  126. j. says...

    My mom did the same thing with us too growing up. We didn’t have a code word per se but my mom had a way of communicating with us so that we could get out of something (usually sleepovers or going to parties that I wasn’t up for etc…). It was always a relief to know that I could just go home (and i did sometimes) without feeling the pressure to stay or do something that I didn’t want to do.

  127. Hannah says...

    I love involving the siblings! I was 16 or 17 when my younger brother called me in the middle of the night, asking me to come pick him up. I didn’t ask any questions, just went. We’ve never been very close, but we both still talk about that night where I picked him up, went through a drive-thru, and sat in silence eating donut holes in the driveway.

    • This is why it was so important to me to have a big family! There is just something special about that sibling relationship, even if you’re not close. My sister and I didn’t get along at all in high school, but I was the one who took care of her the first time she got drunk. I wasn’t there to scold, just to take care of her in a way only a big sister could. Happily, we are very close now! Best friends, who speak every day!