I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard these words uttered by parents…by me.
…kid trips… BE CAREFUL!!!
…kid tries something new…BE CAREFUL!!!
…kid drops cup…BE CAREFUL!!!
…kid leaves the house…BE CAREFUL!!!
But do those words actually do anything for the person on the receiving end of them?
Let’s take a sec to talk about how the phrase “be careful” is majorly failing you and how your words could be affecting your child’s development.
HERE ARE reasons “BE CAREFUL” is not the best choice:
1….IT DOESN’T REALLY MEAN ANYTHING.
When we are talking to our kids and we say “BE CAREFUL!” it means nothing to them…especially when it floats out of our mouths as a response to EVERYTHING THEY DO.
Many of us can attest to the fact that it seems as if our kids don’t even hear those words when we say them over and over…and over and over (more about that here).
Well, let me tell you…It may seem like they have stopped listening, BUT YOU CAN BE SURE OF ONE THING: They still hear you. Which leads me to numero 2.
2…PARENTS ARE SOME OF THE VERY BEST HYPNOTISTS IN THE WORLD.
I never thought of it in those terms before Matt mentioned it to me in conversation one day, but I have to agree. Parents are amazing hypnotists.
Even when it seems like our kids are in their own little world and not paying us a bit of attention, everything is still getting through to them.
Every word we say and each thing we do speaks directly to their subconscious mind, making and molding them into who they will become.
Useless cautions of “be careful” will cause them to be uselessly cautious of harmless things.
3…IT TELLS THEM WE ARE SMART AND THEY ARE DUMB.
These words teach children that adults are all-knowing, all-powerful beings who are the only ones capable of knowing where danger lurks.
It tells them that they know nothing, Jon Snow (GoT reference…you’re welcome).
And over time, you can be sure that through their child development, they will become a product of that programming.
The seemingly harmless phrase of “be careful” said repeatedly will ultimately grow into self-doubt that they will have to fight long and hard to uproot.
Does that sound harsh?? Yeah, kinda. But that’s how big of a deal parenting is. What we plant in them is who they will grow to become.
4…IT TEACHES THEM TO DISTRUST THEIR BODIES AND INSTINCTS DURING CHILD DEVELOPMENT.
Believe it or not, when we let kids run the show when it comes to their level of adventure, they know when to stop.
If we sit back and watch kids at play, they usually know when they need to step back and reconsider a choice.
But when we step in and cut down their confidence, effectively making the decision for them, we don’t allow them to confirm their suspicions that they can possibly “win” at a task.
You can very likely observe this parenting phenomenon at your local park. You will see a kid who is bravely climbing up to the top of the playset until a parent yells, “BE CAREFUL!!”
IMMEDIATELY THE KID BEGINS TO QUESTION THEIR ABILITY…
Can I actually do this?
Maybe I was wrong.
Maybe I can’t do it after all.
I guess I shouldn’t try.
It is better for child development when children are allowed to figure out boundaries on their own.
LET THEM AFFIRM THEIR BELIEF THAT THEY CAN DO IT.
One thing parenting my little adventurers has taught me is that little bodies are much more able to do big things
Yes, that reality is often terrifying from our perspective as parents.
When our little baby-child is trying to climb playground equipment that we think they aren’t ready for, it can make us want to reach for a Xanax quick!
Am I right?
But it is beneficial to stay calm.
Next time you find yourself in that position, take a deep breath and stay quiet.
You can move close enough to catch them, but quiet enough to let them go.
Instead of saying “be careful,” just smile and encourage their adventure.
When you do this, you’ll be building a kid who believes in their abilities and that value will serve them forever.
***I feel like now is a good time to throw out the disclaimer that a toddler should always be supervised during adventure play. Very young children do not yet understand self-governance and safety. You can allow tots to adventure, of course, just make sure it is within your safe watch and reach.***
5…IT TEACHES THEM TO FEAR NEW EXPERIENCES DURING CHILD DEVELOPMENT.
After hearing lots of “be careful” warnings, little ones begin to play it safe all the time so they are never in “danger.”
Putting children into this overly-cautious programming can mean that they will face new adventures full of anxiety instead of confidence.
6…IT PROJECTS YOUR FEARS ONTO THEM DURING CHILD DEVELOPMENT.
Yeah, parenting a kid is hella scary.
In fact, not a day goes by without me conjuring up some crazy scenario involving the one million dumb ways that a child could die.
But bottom line?? It is not my child’s responsibility to worry about such things. It’s mine. That is a burden of parenthood, not childhood.
As parents, it is our job to teach them the fundamentals of safety and to give our children the opportunity to practice those fundamentals through adventure and play.
Our ultimate goal should be to raise little birdies who will be confident when they leave the nest instead of paralyzed by fear, never able to fly.
7…IT IS LAZY.
Ouch…I’ll confess that sometimes “be careful” (or some other parenting cover-all) will escape my mouth because I am too “busy” to take time to parent my kids through something.
Sometimes we (I) need to make our (my) screens take the backseat and be present to do our (my) duty.
It is easy to say “be careful” without even looking up to see what is happening…but aim for intentional, not easy.
Remember, intentional actions now will mean an easier time later.
8…IT MAKES IT HARD FOR THEM TO DISCERN BETWEEN REAL DANGER AND SMALL RISKS DURING CHILD DEVELOPMENT.
Read that again. I can’t stress it enough.
IT MAKES IT HARD FOR THEM TO DISCERN BETWEEN REAL DANGER AND SMALL RISKS.
When we teach kids the difference between these two things, the result is a generation that can make choices and take action confidently, not just in childhood, but in adulthood as well.
9…IT IS VAGUE.
Saying “be careful” doesn’t give any clearly defined information. It doesn’t tell them specifically what to do or not to do.
Poorly defined instructions = poorly executed plans.
10…IT RAISES KIDS WHO ARE SCARED TO BE INDEPENDENT DURING CHILD DEVELOPMENT.
It may seem appealing to have them need us for everything when they are little, but it will ultimately be a disservice to them (and to you) in the long run.
It is really hard to teach an old dog new tricks…and an old kid new behaviors.
SO WHAT SHOULD you BE SAYING INSTEAD?
Well, here are three other options…
1…USE FACTUAL STATEMENTS, INSTEAD OF VAGUE WARNINGS.
Try saying something like this, “When kids are swinging high, they can’t stop when you walk in front of them.” or, “Weak branches can break when you hang on them, but strong ones will not.”
Here’s a FACT: Using factual statements TEACHES SOMETHING. 🙂
By using these types of statements, we will teach our kids those important fundamentals that they need in order to make good (independent) decisions.
Try saying what they should or shouldn’t be doing. For example, “When you climb up the monkey bars, hold on tight.” or “Hold your plate with both hands when you are carrying it so it doesn’t spill.” or “Keep both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road when you are driving.”
Instructions…when they are clear and provide specific directions on what to do and what not to do, they will work. 🙂
3…SAY “YOU CAN DO IT!”
My girls used to come and ask me to help them climb the tree at my mom and dad’s house. My answer was always no. I followed the no with this, “Climbing a tree is hard, but you can do it if you keep working at it.”
Now, I didn’t say all of this because I was lazy and didn’t want to walk over to help them. I said it because I knew that if they couldn’t get up in the tree alone, then they wouldn’t be able to move around in the tree safely once they were in it.
I’d always tell them that if they want to climb the tree, they would have to work at it until they could do it by themselves…no one was allowed to help them.
You can imagine that this didn’t go over well at first…patience may be a virtue, but kids don’t come pre-programmed with it!
And though it didn’t happen in the time frame they hoped, one fine day, Lorelai came running up to me and was SOOOOO proud of herself for climbing the tree alone!
She worked at it (without me hovering over her telling her to be careful) and proved to herself that she could do it.
Another similar phrase that I use A LOT with my kids is “Whether you believe you can do it or whether you believe you can’t do it, you are right.” (Thanks, Henry Ford).
In fact, I’ve repeated this idea to them so much that I have heard Lai pass this wisdom on to other kids (parenting win).
It is never too early to teach them that their mindset will set them up for success or for failure. 🙂
So do everything in your power to set your birdies up for success.
MAN, IT’S A LOT TO REMEMBER ISN’T IT???
Sometimes ALL THE TIME parenting is hard.
It is easy to get overwhelmed and think that if you mess up a little you will raise kids who need daily therapy in order to function.
But, I’m here to tell you that you are doing great.
Every day that you do something to grow or read something to get better, you are doing a fabulous job.
Knowing these secrets may not remove an ounce of the worry we have for them, or the tears from our eyes when they are ready to leave, but it does serve a great purpose…
It assures us that when they are about to fly away, they are leaving our nest full of encouragement, self-confidence and the knowledge that we trust them.
And more than that, they will trust themselves.
I hope that these words encourage you as you are working to raise amazing babies.
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