It can be hard for a teenage girl to chat to her mom—or anyone—about a sensitive issue. A private mother-daughter 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 realize 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
• Attending a party where there are drugs or alcohol
• 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.