The Day I Needed a “Safe Word” for My Child


Last Sunday was undeniably the worst day yet of my parenting career.

My husband was away on military duty, and my family was in town. So we took the girls down to Colonial Williamsburg to do some sightseeing. We also planned to go to Busch Gardens the day after.

Sunday was a cool 96 degrees in Williamsburg with the heat index. So by 3 p.m., life was pretty miserable for this mom who was pushing a stroller, corralling a 6-year-old, and walking a 150-pound dog. But what pushed me over the edge was my oldest daughter’s behavior. 

I am normally pretty cool tempered with her, but this day, she tested every boundary I had.

She refused to get dressed in the morning. She stepped on the dog’s tail. She broke a glass plate 3 seconds after I told her not to carry it on her head. I could literally go on and on about all the things that happened prior to 10 a.m. 

We went out to lunch prior to going to Historic Colonial Williamsburg. She spent most of the lunch under the table not listening and drawing with the crayons on the wood flooring.

Before you say that this was just a case of poor parenting, I was under the table with her trying to provide every intervention possible…with little success.

When lunch was finally over, I had no more than gotten her into the car when I heard, “Mom, I’m hungry!” I wanted to growl, but instead, I just told her she had to wait until dinner. I listened to whining and kicking of my seat for the 10-minute ride to the next stop.

At Colonial Williamsburg, she ran out in front of the horse carriages, walked in planters, refused to hold hands, and went MIA at least 3 times. This resulted in me carrying a squirming, noncompliant, 65-pound child while pushing a stroller and holding a dog leash with an overheated Great Dane on the end.

I took her back to the hotel and got the kids ready to go swimming. She can’t swim that well, but when we got to the pool, she jumped into the water and went under immediately. Once rescued, she did it again. She disregarded my caution of not running around the pool. That resulted in a spill which luckily did not produce a massive injury.

By 7 p.m., I was completely exhausted, frustrated, and stressed. I have a Master’s in Psychology, but nothing I said, did, threatened, or pleaded worked that day. My normally very respectful and attentive child had turned into a Tasmanian darechild overnight.

I sat her down before bedtime and asked her what was fueling her behavior.

Did she need more attention? Did I do something that made her angry? Did she think this was funny? She would not look at me and just said, “I love you, mommy.”

The following compromise was reached:

  1. When my child felt she needed attention, she would ask me. I would have up to 3 minutes to stop what I was doing and give her undivided attention for 10 minutes. 
  2. If she was hungry, she needed to tell me what she wanted to eat…not just that she was hungry.
  3. If mom said the word “school” (she chose the word), she needed to stop what she was doing, run to mommy, and look her in the eyes.

I asked my daughter if these seemed fair, and she agreed. We shook hands on it, and the next day was a significant improvement from the day before. It wasn’t perfect, but every time I had to use “school,” she did run to me and give me attention.

I am writing this for all the moms who have had this kind of day.

Know that you are not alone, and hopefully, your safe word can save you from some of the frustration that I felt.

When you’re having this kind of day, read some of our blog articles. Know that we’re in this together on this mom journey, and we have your back.

Much love. And enjoy the safe word!