So you’re probably thinking that whoever is writing this must be mad. The phrase be careful is good, surely? It helps us to let our children know that there is danger in whatever activity they’re undertaking. And keeping our children safe is of utmost importance, isn’t it? Well bear with me, because I want to explain why saying ‘be careful’ is not the best way to let children know that they are at risk.
Saying this phrase won’t help the child learn anything about the specific danger in that situation. If you say be careful, little ones especially may not understand what they’re supposed to be careful about. Instead of berating them by shouting this phrase, maybe try explaining the risks involved with what they’re doing. If they are playing at the top of the stairs for example. It is tempting to say ‘be careful’ but what will that actually achieve? By saying ‘you shouldn’t play at the top of the stairs, here’s why…’ they are more likely to heed your warning and remember it in the future.
Obviously using the phrase too often will cause it to lose its meaning. If a child is so used to hearing this phrase it won’t even pay attention to it after a while. It will have no impact and you may as well be saying any old nonsense for all the sense it will make to them.
Another, and probably the biggest reason for not using this phrase is because it is fear-inducing. Children will only recognise the warning of the phrase and focus on the risk they are taking. I feel that a much better solution would be to encourage them to assess the danger themselves. Ask them if they feel safe, or if they need to think about what they’re doing before actually undertaking any action. If you give a child the tools to understand risky situations you are setting them up for life. You won’t always be around to tell them to be careful and if they have their own capacity for this then they will be just fine on their own.
The phrase ‘be careful’ may install a fear in our children that they could carry with them through to adulthood. If you let them manage risk and danger themselves then they know they are capable of doing so. You may think that telling them to be careful will build their resilience but the truth is that negative thoughts make all humans (not just children) react negatively. We don’t like being told not to do something but we do like to work things out for ourselves. Children are just the same.
Obviously this will be a trial and error process with your own children and their own personalities. But finding other phrases to say instead of be careful will have a much more positive impact on their play and imagination.