Why to not say.. BE CAREFUL and what you can do instead
What parent or caregiver hasn’t spoken (or even shouted) the words “Be careful”
The idea for this blog is taken from an awesome post by the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada about why telling kids to “Be careful” is not the best way to keep them safe.
Why not use “Be careful”? There are a few reasons that really stick out to me.
Firstly, if you repeat it too often, it loses its impact.
Secondly, when you say, “Be careful,” you do not help a child learn anything about the risk in the given situation, never mind how to manage that risk.
If you can be a bit more specific, it is both more likely that your child will be safer in their moment, and he or she can learn about how to manage a given situation in the future.
Kids also like to play in ways that are both wonderfully beneficial and inherently dangerous. My favourite is what Wired magazine’s GeekDad and I both agree is the #1 toy of all time—sticks.
Often saying “BE CAREFUL” really means “PUT THAT STICK DOWN” What a loss.
Sticks are so versatile and playing with them supports imagination, gross and fine motor, creativity, problem-solving, and more. Let’s work out how be confident and not put the sticks away, but help kids learn to give sticks and each other the space they need to be safe.
Perhaps my favourite reason, though, is that there is a negative impact of using fear-inducing language with kids. When we give commands for kids to “BE CAREFUL,” “DON’T FALL” or even “STOP” – our alert is loaded with a warning and focuses on the danger, rather than reminding kids of their capacity to manage the situation.
Our minds do not process negative information easily, and kids respond to this negative information with fear. Fear tends to make all of us freeze—but that is not what kids need to do in most risky play situations. Rather than encouraging resilience, this kind of experience could make kids both unsafe in the moment and more reluctant to try again in the future.
The post was full of suggestions, but we talked about this as a family and came up with a few of our own.
Shorter phrases were extra helpful, especially with my younger child.
In fact, the whole family started using these with one another and we’ve found that they create a more positive experiences in pretty much everything!
Here were some of our favourites:
When kids are climbing or running on uneven ground, remind them to fully engage and/or help them recognize if they may need help:
• “Strong steps, Ramona”
• “Take your time.”
• “Nice climbing with hands and feet” or “Iris; hands and feet can make climbing easier”
• “How are you feeling on those rocks?”
• “Are you feeling safe?”
• “Let me know if you want some teamwork”
(My youngest will often refuse help or even advice as a rule, but is much more open to the idea of “teamwork” – thank you, Paw Patrol)
When kids have play loose parts that could hurt someone else, do not block their brain and spirit-building play, but help kids use the objects safely:
• “Sticks (or rocks) need space, can you move a bit so your stick has plenty of space?”
(This one is REALLY helpful)
• “Wait, let’s tell our friends to watch out and wait before you throw that rock.”
• “Which direction should you throw that/wave that so other friends are safe?”
• “1, 2, 3 .. now throw!”
We would love to hear your feedback about this blog; feel free to comment below ..
Wild Tots HQx