Littles have regressive tendencies that sometimes places them in the thought patterns and feelings of that of a biological child despite their physical maturation into adulthood. While this is usually a positive experience for the regressor it can create a vulnerability to feel overwhelmed by typical adult behaviors, responsibilities, and environments. When partnered, a little should have the option to express discomfort to their caregiver so that, if available, their comfort levels can be restored.
Some situations that may overwhelm a little while experiencing any level of regression:
- Group settings
- New environments
- Public outings while regressed
We have taken the idea of utilizing safe or stop words to assist in a little communicating comfortably with their caregiver. A safeword or stopword tells their partner that the situation should stop altogether, slow down, or in some other way change. Sometimes a little will use a safeword or stopword to communicate the need for a break or to be temporarily excused from the current action or environment to regather their comfort levels.
Safewords or stopwords should be easy for a little to communicate when feeling even heavily regressed. It should be met with an accepting, positive response with no shame, guilt, or fear attached. When one of these special phrases or actions are used a caregiver's ideal response is to pause any action being taken and clearly ask the little to communicate if they need the situation to stop, temporarily halt, or if something specific needs to be changed to restore their comfort. If in a group situation then a caregiver should help the little remove themselves and offer comfort in a private and/or calm environment.
Many caregiver and little couples choose to initially use a basic-but-flawed color-coded system:
- Green: Everything is okay
- Yellow: Something needs to pause or change
- Red: The situation needs to end or the little needs to be removed from the overwhelming environment
Unfortunately, due to the nature of regression a color-coded stopword system is not ideal and we do not recommend it for optimal safety reasons. These basic color codes can accidentally be said in the heat of the moment but not meant to convey the need to stop.
Realistic Example Where Colors Fail:
Situation: The little is being given a mutually agreed upon punishment.
Caregiver: "What's your color right now?"
Little: "My bottom is so...red!"
Caregiver: "Oh, okay. I'll stop. Are you okay?!"
Little: "But, no! You don't need to stop. Maybe I want a red bottom for being naughty! Why are you stopping?"
Caregiver: "But you said the color red, knowing that red would make me stop? Don't you remember our color code?"
Little: "Oh, I didn't mean to say it like that. I got carried away and excited. Now I feel bad for messing up. I'm so embarrassed that I got mixed up and forgot I couldn't say certain colors without meaning something else. I sort-of just wanted you to play into telling me how red you were making my bottom..."
Color words also may accidentally blend into a person's regression since they are immediately visual. Many people experiencing regression say words of things they see or like to identify colors, shapes, numbers, and sounds just as a biological child does from time to time. Suddenly, a yellow-colored paddle may become a problem between the couple! A little one may regress to engaging in sounding out the color, "Ye-ye-ye-llow," but not necessarily meaning they need a break or for the situation to slow down, change, or end. It's best to steer clear of common words and go for things that are unique, rarely spoken, and definitely not visual in your most common settings.
For a little who may accidentally fall into saying very basic words, such as primary colors, it can create embarrassment and lead to fear, anxiety, or a number of negative emotions. Perhaps it will break their regression and feel like they've suddenly "ruined everything" despite having had an innocent, harmless moment of regression.
Instead, we recommend partners choose words together that they would not likely say or visually see. Additionally, caregivers may choose to also provide 3 visual flash cards to the little that can be pointed to when needing to convey these messages in case the little is regressed to being nonverbal. Partners should choose together and casually practice this thoroughly so the code is not forgetten in the heat of the moment when anxiety may be high.
Better safeword / stopword examples:
(partners should assign a defined meaning to each potential answer and practice these in nonsexual, everyday life so reinforce their meanings and comfort levels
- The forest
- The desert
- The beach
Flashcards (visual options to point or cue to for nonverbal littles)
3 basic shapes (1 per card): heart, star, crescent moon
3 smiley faces (1 per card): smile, straight-face, frown
Made-up words that do not exist in the couple's language
Short and simple words taken from another language the couple does not otherwise speak