ADHD Strategies: Using Code Words in ADHD Families

What are code words? Can code words help ADHD families? We asked Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a professional certified coach and family advocate. With both her professional and personal experience as a mother of five, Elaine explained how code words work in her own family and why they are useful to get someone’s attention, change a course of action, or constrain a meltdown.

According to Elaine, code words are helpful in teaching kids to learn to self-regulate. It is not the parent’s job to tell them what to do or how to do it, but parents can use code words as a tool to empower their kids to take responsibility for themselves. If the use of code words sounds interesting to you, read more on my blogpost, “ADHD Strategies: Using Code Words in ADHD Families.”

Watch our video to learn more.

Video Transcript:

Jeff Copper:   Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, Attention coach Jeff Copper and I’m here with Elaine Taylor-Klaus of Impact ADD.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   ADHD.

Jeff Copper:   ADHD. You know, I get that wrong every single time.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   You do. Why is that? ADHD, ADD, they aren’t interchangeable.

Jeff Copper:   It isn’t and I can’t seem to get it right, so I have to go to negative reinforcement pretty soon.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   I’ll just correct you and you’re not going to want to get corrected too long before you capture it.

Jeff Copper:   Or we can have a code word.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   We could talk code words.

Jeff Copper:   Today this show is about code words, and can you tell our listeners when we say “code word,” what does that mean?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Code words are a strategy that you can use in a family to communicate what’s happening, what’s coming up or to identify what is happening, but it’s a way to short circuit a conversation so that everybody is on the same page and can take action really quickly as opposed to having a long drawn out conversation about something.

Jeff Copper:   What would be an example of a code word in your house?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   We use codewords for a lot of things. My favorite is in the longest standing one is a broccoli ice cream. When we say broccoli ice cream, that means somebody is hungry and it usually happens when there’s a meltdown starting, used to be when there was the meltdown fully happening, but we finally figured out how to shorten that cycle with the code word. When somebody says broccoli ice cream, that means everything stops and nobody has any more conversation until somebody gets food.

Jeff Copper:   I’m just visualizing some of those days. I mean this is good for ADHD families or any family, but that when my seven year old was hungry and cranky and stuff, broccoli ice cream, get food before we get into.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   But you know what? It’s the same when you’re 17 and when you’re 27. It’s not just little kids. We all get peckish, we get hungry, and we don’t realize that we’re getting cranky when we’re hungry.

Jeff Copper:   I like that. You got another one for us?

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   We have another old standing favorite that’s called bubblegum. Bubblegum is the term we use when we want our kids to know that we’re about to tell them something that they may not really want to hear, but they know they need to hear it or we want them to hear it. It’s sort of the message to stop and take a deep breath because we’re going to tell you something you may not like.

Jeff Copper:   I like that. Being coaches, we say bubblegum, it’s that built in pause like let’s take our breath before we kind of go. I got the food and ice cream, but bubblegum.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Well, bubblegum was my daughter’s choice and it was really important that we come up with something that she thought was fun and playful.

Jeff Copper:   Okay. Okay.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Right.

Jeff Copper:   Fun and playful as the antidote to something.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Something you don’t want to hear.

Jeff Copper:   Okay. I got it. Got it. Another one, you said rope.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Yeah. Rope is a more recent addition to our repertoire. Rope is what somebody says when they can feel that they’re just at the end of the rope, they’re about to lose it. We want our kids to become emotionally aware, right? We want them to recognize when it’s becoming hard to manage. We don’t want it to be an excuse, but sometimes being able to say rope lets us know, okay, take a breath, everybody stop, pause for a minute because whatever’s happening is too hard for them to continue with.

Jeff Copper:   What I really like about that, it’s so coach-like because let’s say you have an ADHD teen and they’re buying into this to notice that their end of the rope is, they’re paying attention, they know what’s going on and so they’re pausing and they’re saying rope, which is such a great skill cause so many times as coaches, I know we’re doing a lot of teaching people to catch and pause, to notice what they’re doing to change their behavior, and the mere fact that these little words are actually kind of conditioning people to observe what’s going on and to say, wait a second, it’s time to go and change that course of action with something as simple as a key word expeditiously.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Well, and if you sort of pull back from that even more conceptually, that’s how it shows up in our life, but what we’re trying to do, and at Impact ADHD, our whole piece is about, we have to teach our kids that their job is to learn to manage themselves.

Jeff Copper:   Yes. Yes.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   It’s got to be a conscious front of mind. We want them to understand that’s their job, not for us to do for them or ultimately to tell them what or how to do, but we want them to be owning it and taking that responsibility.

Jeff Copper:   What I like about it, it’s great. You have the words, you’re empowering them to do exactly what you’re talking about.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Exactly.

Jeff Copper:   Elaine, thank you very much for coming on the show.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   You’re always welcome. It’s my pleasure.

Jeff Copper:   For our listeners out there, if you want to learn more, go to

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   See, it only took one reminder.

Jeff Copper:   That’s right, and no code word on that one.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus:   Thanks for having me.

Jeff Copper:   Thanks, everybody.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.