When I was a kid, my family, like a lot of families in the scared-of-predators era ( let’s say 1985- the foreseeable future), had a codeword that adults needed to use if they were unexpectedly sent to pick us up from somewhere instead of our parents. This was meant to keep us safe from strangers who said “Oh I know your mom, and she told me to come get you,” and then drive us off for some ill intent.
Since my brother and I have now made it into our thirties without anything like this ever having happened, I think it’s OK to tell you that our codename was “Sunflowers.” There it is. Big secret childhood codeword that was made up to address a situation that thankfully never came to pass. By the way thanks Mom and Dad for all those drives to and from activities! It never occurred to me that they might have other things they might rather do.
Unrelated to the whole predator thing, I have a new use for codewords in day to day life.
Sometimes interactions between people can be unexpectedly fraught with negative emotions - conflict, anxiety, anger, awkwardness — take your pick. Personally I worry in situations like this that I’ll let the heat of the moment get to me and make an impulsive comment that can take things in a possibly irreversibly wrong direction ( storming off, hanging up phone, your regular drama). It can be hard to tell how much is real emotion and how much has been heightened by the stress of the moment.
One thing that has helped me very, very much in situations like this is having a codeword that I use right when I feel like I’m getting a bit too worked up. I actually say it out loud. It’s not a word I normally use, but it’s not uncommon enough that the other person will really notice. Somehow it helps me to say the word out loud rather than having some sort of internal pep talk, because it gets me out of my head and helps me see that I need to step back, take a walk, watch the next words coming out of my mouth, whatever I need to do to de escalate the situation for myself, even if the other person is willing to keep at it.
I realize not everyone is a “0-60” type person with quick flares of temper or anxiety, but if you are, give this trick a try. Pick a word that’s not a word you normally use, maybe something a bit old fashioned but that can be used in most contexts without alerting anyone that something unusual might be going on. This whole strategy is very contingent on you knowing when you’re getting upset enough that the situation could get out of hand quickly and be able to back out of it. If you can’t gauge this for yourself, you need to do a little more work to get yourself there.
I won’t tell you what my word is, because unlike Stranger Danger, this is still something that’s a very real part of my life and something I do on the rare moments I find myself in a scrap.
I think this can work for more than the short-tempered though, also for people with social anxiety who may need a break from a busy party, or a way to talk yourself down if you’re in a particularly difficult situation (flat tire, five year old’s birthday party and the clown didn’t show) and need a way to check in with yourself. Try it, and remember to say the word out loud, because if a situation’s going around in your head with no outlet, it’ll just stay there and catch fire.