Trigger Words

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I recently realized how fragile the world is that I have created around Declan.

I know there are things that get him upset, so I keep those things away from him.  I do that for everyone in my family as they do for me.  We love and respect each other as a family that way.  We keep each other safe and happy.

For Declan, there is a very delicate balance around HOW we say things to him.

There are words we do not say to Declan, as he finds them very upsetting and may have meltdown.  We have worked in this house to not say the words around him.  But how do I keep those words away from him when he is not here?

Especially one as common as his least favorite word of all: “NO.”

I can’t.

So I had to come up with a plan to help him.

I realized our delicate balance recently when we were babysitting a little girl, younger than Declan.  Declan loved being around her.  Seeing her smile.  Again, it was a little awkward.  She enjoyed playing and he enjoyed watching her smile.  He would lean in close to her face and just smile about an inch away.  I kept coaching him away from her personal space, but little by little he would work his way into her space again.

Until finally, it was time for the mom wagon to pull out.  It was a busy night of soccer practice and therapy appointments.  I was able to separate Declan from his Mona Lisa by strapping them into their separate car seats.  Where he smiled and swayed his head as we drove along.

The Trigger Word is Spoken

Two stops into our journey, Declan began to say funny things.  At least he thought they were pretty funny.

“Scooby Dooby Doo.  Scooby Dooby Doo.  Scooby Dooby Doo…”

“I am Annakin Skywalker!”

“I love PIZZA.  PIZZA is my favorite!  Right Mommy?”

“There is a MONKEY GHOST in that tree!”

Which is where, I believe our young friend had had it.


Uh-Oh.  My eyebrows go up, my knuckles go white on the steering wheel and I hope the word was not heard.  I look back and see Declan staring out the window with a half-smile.

A little bit lighter he says again, “There is a monkey ghost in that tree…”

To which we hear, “No.  There.  Ith not.  A monkey ghost.  In that tree.”

Declan’s eyebrows go down.  A dark rain cloud just moved over his head and I see the thunder roll and the lightening strike.

“YES THERE IS!!!!”  He screams.  His back arches, he balls fists, his eyes squeeze shut.

“It’s alright, Declan.  There could be a monkey ghost!  It’s okay!” I console.

“There ith not a monkey ghost in that tree,” she says again.

“Maybe!  Maybe Declan saw one and then it swung away real quick.  Who knows?”

And then I see a 4-year-old show me her skeptical look.

I get to the CD player and turn on one of Declan’s favorite songs.  I redirect everyone’s attention away from the existence of possible monkey ghosts in trees and sing until Declan is singing along with me.

Crisis averted.  This time.

We spend a lot of time saying, “Maybe” or “Let’s try this instead” or “Maybe Santa will bring it.” Anything to avoid the word “NO” but still get our message across.  We have found ways to avoid the trigger word.

I realize I cannot change the world around him.  I can’t tape a sign to his shirt that says, “Don’t say “NO” to me.”  I don’t think that message would come across the right way.  And goodness, there would probably be a few other things I would want on that sign before that.

But I can keep redirecting attention.  I can keep things nearby to help calm Declan down.  He is going to hear the words that are hard for him (a lot) as life goes on.  And he is going to have to work through them as I won’t always be there.

One day, he will reach for his music on his own.  One day he will deep breathe on his own.  One day, if he can, he will just get up and walk away and sing a song in his head.  One day.  For right now?  I can just try to show him every day ways to help him through.  He’ll get the picture.  And be able to hear the word he hates most of all without a cringe.  NO.

photo credit: <a href=”″>Spirit</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>


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