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A secret code for your mother daughter relationship

A secret code for your mother daughter relationship

It can be hard for a teenage girl to chat to her mum – or anyone – about a sensitive issue. A mother-daughter private code may help her talk when she’s feeling awkward or unhappy.

Think of a time when you kept a secret from your parents. What was it? Why didn’t you tell them? You were probably scared they would disapprove in some way. But how would you feel if your teen daughter kept similar secrets from you? Disappointed? Angry? Worried? Wouldn't it be best to encourage more openness to start with?

Listen without judgement

"Parents don't realise that the white lie or avoidance of the truth is more about your child wanting to stay connected to you," says clinical psychologist Dr Tara Cousineau. "The trick is to create an environment where you are not judgmental and can hold your child's perspective in view.

"Often this is simply by being open and honest in your own life – with your spouse and friends. Your daughter is a keen observer, and she’ll feel more confident to raise tricky subjects with you when she sees you act with integrity. She has to know that you'll listen and help her without judging or jumping to conclusions."

Girls sometimes find themselves in situations that they didn't choose to be in, or that have turned uncomfortable. They don't intend to lie, but are caught between protecting their friends and social status, and protecting you from knowing about it. 

Using a codeword for dealing with problems

Dr Cousineau suggests creating a codeword that your daughter can use to alert you to common teenage problems or when she wants to talk about a sensitive issue. Situations when codewords come in handy include:

  • Doing badly at school
  • Being touched inappropriately
  • Developing problematic eating habits
  • Being teased or harassed
  • Relationship advice
  • Having feelings hurt by a family member or friend

If you come up with a shared private codeword or phrase, it could strengthen your mother daughter relationship by preventing misunderstandings and allowing you to help her when she needs it most. She may want to use it when she’s away from you, perhaps needing you to come and help her. Reassure her that she can call or text you and use your codeword whenever necessary.

Put yourself in her shoes

"The transition from childhood to adolescence can be challenging," says Dr Cousineau. "Put yourself in her shoes and listen to what your daughter has to say. Make sure you let her know that you are glad she came to you." 

In his book Raising Girls, psychologist Steve Biddulph suggest aunts, older sisters or female adult friends can play significant roles in girls’ lives as trusted confidantes. See if your daughter would like to give an aunt or adult friend the codeword too.

Your mother daughter code will build trust and encourage your teenage daughter to reach out to you when dealing with teenage problems. Open communication will help develop her confidence to overcome issues and reach her full potential.

Choosing and using a codeword with your daughter

For the code to work, there are a few guidelines you should both agree to:

  • Put safety first
  • Listen, don't blame
  • Communicate in a positive way
  • Come up with solutions and consequences together
  • Understand that making mistakes is human and part of growing up
  • Identify emergency contacts

Follow these steps to make the codeword a powerful way for you and your daughter to build your communication and trust.

  • 1

    Choose a simple codeword

    Pick something that sounds normal and natural, such as "Mum, can you fix my bracelet?" Then your daughter – or you – can use it to signal there's something you both need to discuss

  • 2

    Agree some rules

    Write the codeword rules together and agree to stick to them

  • 3

    Two codes are better than one

    Consider creating two codewords: one that signals something's urgent and one that tells you something's up but your daughter doesn’t want to talk right now

  • 4

    Find a second confidante

    It may help to have another adult that your daughter can use her codeword with, in case you’re not around or she doesn't feel able to open up to you

  • 5

    Take the code seriously

    When your daughter uses the code, praise her for asking for help. Take her somewhere private and listen to her

next steps

  • Start a conversation with your daughter about the codeword and the situations she might use it in
  • How does she feel knowing she has the codeword in tricky situations when she needs to talk to you in private?
  • After she’s used it a few times, ask how she feels about it and if she's happy with the way you responded