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What Are Family Code Words?

My Biggest Parenting Tip For Ensuring Your Child's Safety: A Family Code Word

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When it comes to family, keeping secrets is usually frowned upon. You want your kids to be open and honest with you and feel comfortable coming to you with anything they might be going through. But when it comes to secrets you're all in on together, that's when it's usually OK (if not necessary). One such secret is a family code word.

When I was in middle school, my mother informed my younger sister and me that we should establish a family code word. No one but my family would know about our special word — we couldn't tell our best friends or teachers — and we were to keep it that way. So, my sister and I picked our word and set it to memory.

My mom gave strict instructions that this special word was to be used only in emergency situations. For example, if a stranger asked me to get in their car and said something along the lines of, "Your mom is going to be late. She sent me to pick you up," I could ask them to give me the code word for proof. If they couldn't tell me the word, I knew they were lying. Or if someone knocked on the door when I was home alone and pretended to be a family friend, I would ask them the code word. If they didn't know it, I wouldn't open the door. We were now a family who harbored true secrets.

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Today, despite how much time has passed and how busy our lives are, my sister and I still remember our secret code word. Luckily, we never had to use it, but this is the kind of family secret I want to pass on to my 5-year-old. It's such a simple thing that can help protect him.

With the start of kindergarten this year, my husband and I have begun talking to our son about what to do should he be approached by strangers, and a family code word will be a part of this plan for him. We'll be clear with him on how this works, and hopefully this secret word will help him feel a sense of safety in a world where "stranger danger" can feel all too overwhelming. I know it did for me.

I'm not a huge fan of secrets in general, but this is one I'm happy to hand down to my son. As a mom, I'm ready to give my kid all the tools I can to help keep him safe and secure, because I doubt making him stay home glued to my hip for the rest of my life is an option (is it?). This is why a family code word is definitely a family secret worth keeping.

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