Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Magic Words

Maybe there's an official, academic term for it out there somewhere, but around here, they're called Magic Words. I wouldn't get through a day without them. Their power is undeniable, their familiarity so comforting.

Wait. You don't know about Magic Words? Oh, we need to fix that!

It all started with "not an option." When I get extremely overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, or sometimes I'm not exactly sure what the words are to describe the feelings, as much as I hate to have to admit this, I can get self-injurious. The most common one is probably scratching my hands, which get really itchy when I get stressed. I hit, bite, chew, pick, scratch... you name it. Under stress, it's all worse. In the moment, I'm usually unaware that I'm doing it. Sometimes, though, I can feel the urge to engage in these behaviors creeping up. It's so hard to fight of those urges. So, so very hard. Try holding it when you have to go to the bathroom for, oh, say, a day and a half. It's that hard. It just wants. to. come. out. One day, Leigh said, "Stop. It's just not an option." After telling me that it's "not an option" probably a hundred times, I started to say it myself, and then started to say it to myself. I can't reason, I can't convince myself, I can't see the consequences of two hours from now... don't even try those tactics, because they're too complicated. Just remind me: not an option. I might let out a frustrated growl, but at least for the amount of time that "not an option" is in my head, my hands will stay down. It might only be a few seconds, or it might be five minutes... but my hands are down.

Other important Magic Words are "okay." Work is rarely a breeze to get through, so I break it into chunks. I can be okay until 4:00. I can be okay until 6:00. I can be okay until 7:00 when I go home. "Being okay" is the opposite of melting down, so that's what it's used for. If I say I'm okay, I inherently cannot be melting down. If you tell me "you're okay," unless I'm already starting to melt, I'll say yeah, I'm okay, and okay I will most certainly be, for a while. "I can be okay" has gotten me through fireworks, the mall, and many days of work. I'm not describing what I already am... as in, I feel fine, I'm okay. I'm causing the behavior. By saying I'm okay, then all melt downs are warded off for the time being.

I asked Leigh for some new Magic Words lately for a situation that kept popping up. What happens when I'm already kind of melting down, when I'm really feeling bad? I can't say I'm okay then. It took some going back and forth, but she came up with "it will pass." these words are not quite magic yet, because they haven't been used enough. Part of what makes certain words magic is that they've been repeated so many times that they immediately change circumstances. "It will pass" doesn't yet cause me to immediately calm down... but give it a few weeks, and these too, will be Magic Words.

I decided to write about this because I was hoping that one of you parents could use the idea with your kids. Magic Words are really, really comforting to me. The words change the bad situation immediately. Any little kid that melts down would take comfort in that, too... knowing that he can "be okay" when he's about to melt or that "it will pass" when he's losing it. I'm sure I'll continue to add to my repertoire, now that I've discovered how wonderful a thing I've come across here... maybe you can figure out what Magic Words you need and work them into your life.


  1. The only magic words I know are 'please', 'thank you' and 'abracadbra'.

    Words are magic when we give them power. And, yes, words can change things.

    I am so glad that you can and have experienced this.

    And it's good to see that you were able to use 'not an option' to stop injuring yourself.

  2. Our magic word is finished. Shouting finished, melt down finished, video finished, even when our dog died, he too was finished.

  3. Thank you! This is helpful. I will try it with my 8 yr old son. Do you think can still be effective even if he resists hearing them at first?
    By the way, I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now and have really enjoyed it! Naomi

  4. I definitely think it can work even if he resists it... using the same word(s) over, and over, and over, and over again is the key.

  5. Thank you Lydia! It is very helpful to hear from someone who is experiencing the things are children experience.

  6. I just found your blog. I love to read what you have written. Thank you!
    And I will try the Magic Words with my son.

  7. Thank you. I am so greatful to you Lydia for your writing and spirit of helpfullness. I often find myself thinking of you and your love of animals. I am an animal lover myself and while I'm not autistic I totaly get the connection and sense of peace you get from animals because I feel it too. I have 2 cats and they are brothers from the same litter, Felix and Oscar. Both of them seem drawn to my daughter. I can't wait to try this magic words technique with her! I hope it works as well for her as it does for you.