“Safe” Words – Wise Words Wednesday

Safe Words

“You need a ‘safe’ word for when someone is doing things or saying something that hurts your heart,” – Kim Borgmeyer

As all parents do, some friends of mine and I were discussing school and the upcoming school year. Some were concerned about the amount of “just kidding” that the kids were doing and how uncertain we were that most would consider their jibes or insults as “jokes.” In addition there were some comments made about when teachers “joke” and the words do not come across as “funny” to the students.

My friend Kim suggested that each classroom have a “safe” word. A word that any student could use to the teacher or other students to signify that what was being said or done was hurtful to them. It could be anything from “rotten apples” to “pink giraffe,” but whatever the word was it would always show that the other’s behavior was not okay.

I thought, “Man, that’s brilliant.” Using a “safe” word is a terrific way to signify the impact of the moment and keep everyone aware of the power of their words and actions.

Of course everyone would need to understand that the “safe” word should only be used in real instances of bullying or disrespect. It should not be a word or phrase to be used lightly or in joking situations and everyone would have to abide by the understanding that it really was a “safe” way to say, “Hey, that’s not okay.”

This reminded me of a time when I gave a nickname to a student. All of my yearbook students had nicknames. It was our tradition. The nickname given to this particular young man was awarded completely out of comradery and friendly ribbing but, as things sometimes do, the nickname evolved to become something that was negative in my student’s life. It was not until after the spring awards banquet that I learned he thought the nickname meant I didn’t think he was smart.

Never in a million years would I have called a student a hurtful name or wanted to subject him to such shame, but my “joking” did just that. As I came to this realization, I was sick with guilt and grief. (It still makes me sick to think about it today.) I apologized profusely to the young man and did my best to assure him that I never wanted to hurt his feelings or ever doubt his brilliance. (He really is brilliant.)

If we had a “safe” word in my class, it would have provided that student with an easy and unquestionable way to stop the nickname and let me know that I needed to end its use and prevent any additional hurt.

I encourage you to create “safe” words in your home, work place, or classroom. Using this strategy lets people know how you feel and is a powerful way to ensure that everyone’s energy and intents are directed at making each day as positive as possible.

“You need a ‘safe’ word for when someone is doing things or saying something that hurts your heart,” – Kim Borgmeyer

By: Melanie A. Peters

P.S. Letting your students or kids be a part of the “safe” word selection process can be fun and impactful. Put positive power into their words and yours.



3 thoughts on ““Safe” Words – Wise Words Wednesday

  1. I absolutely love this idea! I don’t spend my days in the classroom as a professor but it would be extremely helpful among my friend group. A “safe word” would be handy in terms of triggering moments for those with anxiety. Thanks for the idea 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right! A lot of friends have “safe” words for uncomfortable situations or when they are ready to leave because they are not okay with what’s going on. Parents can have “safe” words with their kids. The kid can call or text with the “safe” word and Mom and Dad know they are needed.

      I really appreciate your insight and taking time to read.


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