Whenever the children leave the house to go out and play, parents feel the need to protect their safety. Instinctively they tell them to be careful. Parents do this to instill a sense of caution in them so that they don’t get hurt. It’s a reflexive reaction to tell the kids to “be careful” when they set out to play. When they join their friends to ride their bikes, parents tell them to “be careful.” When they’re running around the yard, climbing trees, using sharp tools during craft time; parents’ instinct tells them to say, “be careful.”
Parents are protectors. To prevent the kids from hurting themselves, parents attempt to use precautionary language to keep their kids’ guard up. The problem is, “be careful” is so vague and commonly used that children have become immune to this phrase.
Saying “be careful” to kids has become a habit.
Since the children were little babies, it has been parents’ innate obligation to watch over them and keep them safe. But as the children grow, they require a little more freedom. Parents can’t watch their every move anymore. Since supervision becomes less prevalent, parents find other ways to look out for them.
Some parents instill caution in kids by suggesting alternatives. They may tell their children to walk instead of running into the street. Always look both ways. To stand back and allow cars to pass by instead of attempting to jump on them.
Other parents take the shortcut and say “be careful” to their kids.
There’s a reason that parents habitually tell their children to be careful. Ever since we were small, that’s what we were told as well. It just seems like the normal way to warn children. At home, your parents would always tell you to “be careful” when you went swimming in the pool, or out to play red-rover with your friends. Teachers would tell you to “be careful” when you ran out for recess.
There’s seemingly nothing wrong with it. The phrase is always passed on with good intentions. That is why we habitually tell children to be careful when they engage in possibly hazardous activities.
But preventative language like “be careful” is only helpful when it is accurately explained. The simple term “be careful” isn’t going to cut it anymore.
“Be careful” can mean so much that it means nothing.
The phrase holds so much meaning, that it is rendered meaningless. Without any specific details or guidance, the children don’t know what they need to be wary of. They need to be provided with an explanation on what they need to be careful of and why. What will happen if they don’t proceed with caution?
Without accurate explanations, children might begin to perceive everything as a threat. The vague, “be careful” could translate to be careful of everything around you. Everything is a danger. With this value implanted in them from a young age, they may grow up to believe that nothing is safe.
They may become paranoid and meek. They will be less likely to engage in physical activities because of the impending possibility of injury. They won’t step outside of their comfort zone because it’s just too scary.
Playing it safe means watching from the sidelines.
Children need to have the freedom to make some mistakes on their own and learn from them. If you make them believe that nothing is safe, they will believe that the only way to exist and survive is to avoid risk by all means possible.
While safety is important, this avoidance of risk could be detrimental to their development. When they are wrapped up in keeping themselves “safe”, they could be missing out on loads of opportunities.
By always using caution, children will grow up to only engage in activities that they know are completely certain and free of risk. But the reality is that nothing is certain. There is always some level of risk regardless of your level of caution.
In order to get ahead in life, you have to take risks. Opportunities are basically synonymous with risks. There’s a chance that it won’t work out. But there is also a chance that it will. Being “too careful” will cause them to pass up on opportunities. This can hinder them from achieving success. Success never came to those who were too afraid to go after it.
If children are raised to always fear the unknown and never take any risks, they may be doomed to lead a mediocre life. They’ll never have the ambition to strive for greatness. Instead they’ll spend their lives wishing they were more determined, regretting all of the chances that they never took.
Guide, don’t warn.
Let the children know to proceed with caution, but don’t make them be afraid to fall. They need to learn how to get back up, dust themselves off, and move forward.
When reminding them to be careful, be more specific. Explain the situation at hand, and what exactly they need to be careful of. Don’t give them a vague and flawed sense of danger. Tell them why the activity is dangerous, but don’t limit their choices. Still allow them to engage in the activity. Allow them to discover boundaries on their own and develop their own sense of caution.
As you know at this point, “be careful” is just too vague.
There is nothing wrong with the phrase “be careful” when your intentions are pure. But children need more information. They need to know what specifically they need to be careful of and what might happen if they aren’t.
Here’s what you can say to give your children a bit more of an explanation.1
Words with more meaning
- Stay focused on what you are doing.
- Watch out for other people and give them lots of space.
- Check in with each other. Make sure everyone is having fun.
- Please move slowly and carefully near the ____.
- That rock looks heavy, can you manage it?
- Look around you before throwing things!
- *While climbing* Does that feel safe?
- Make sure you have space before running with your stick.
- Keep one end of your stick on the ground.
- Don’t run near the edge of a pool.
- Watch your friends, they might not be looking.
- If your toy goes into the road, call for an adult.
- Tell your friends if you don’t like how they play.
- Pay attention while climbing so you don’t slip.
- Take your time.
Let them fall, for good.
They aren’t always going to listen to you. Some lessons they need to learn for themselves. Give them the freedom to do that. Those who are willing to take risks are the ones who strive for success later on in life.