“Be Careful”

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Do you find yourself saying this over and over and over? It’s like a default for me. My son is adventurous and not really fearful which means he’s halfway up the ladder by the time I realize it. I read a really good post recently about how to stop saying “be careful” and instead use words that have actual meaning and significance.

First, saying “be careful” isn’t very specific. For a young toddler especially, what exactly does “be careful” mean? How does one go about being “careful” if you don’t really know what that word means? When learning about how to give effective praise we are told to be specific and that it’s much better to praise effort than results. So, when we apply this logic to a warning we can focus on what we want the child to do instead of what not to do. For example:

  • “Steady feet. Nice and slow.”
  • “Make sure your hands are holding tight.”
  • “Watch what is in front of you”
  • “Take your time”
  • “That needs more space. Move further away”

When my son insists on climbing the wall on the playset that’s designed for 5-year-olds I try not to say no. Instead, I stay near and remind him of what he should be doing, “Make sure you have a place for your hands and then a place for your feet.” “Look up ahead and see where you can hold on.” “Make sure your foot is secure before reaching up,” etc.

We want our children to take risks. When we constantly insulate them from these types of experiences they grow up fearful and weary of challenges. Helping your child to be more aware and to process and think through the moment teaches them how to execute difficult challenges and to grow confident in their abilities.

All of life is risky. Children should be climbing trees and learning about fire and how to handle knives. Otherwise they will eventually come in contact with risk and with no experience it could lead to much destruction. Risky activities help children know their strength and limitations and sense of self. Risk is good. However, we still want calculated risk, am I right!?!

This is where your language is so important. What you say to your child teaches them to doubt their ability or to trust their ability. We want to raise our children to be self-sufficient and productive members of society. When we speak positively to our children we teach them to view themselves positively and to believe in their abilities.

Have you noticed yourself saying “be careful” too much? Try to rephrase your warnings and see if it helps and if you have any suggestions please let us know in the comments!

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