What You May Want to Say To Your Kids Instead of “Be Careful”

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When your kid tries climb on top of a large jungle gym, your instinct might be to shout, “be careful!” After all, you want them to stay safe, right?

However, experts say parents need to learn to hold back on this phrase more often than not. Why? Because saying it won’t actually make the kids any more careful than they’re going to be. In fact, it can sometimes tell your child that you don’t trust them and make them doubt themselves.

So what if your child makes a mistake—and he falls from the monkey bars? That’s how kids learn, experts say.

“Taking risks means sometimes failing,” writes parenting expert Jamie Glowacki in Oh Crap! I Have a Toddler. “If you never take a risk, if you play it safe all the time, you become afraid of making a mistake. You become afraid of failure. The ramifications of this core attitude affect people throughout their entire lives.”

In fact, Glowacki says that even if your kid is about to hurt themselves—even when you KNOW that the consequence of what they’re doing is coming—it’s still important to bite your tongue.

“When we bite our lips, holding back a ‘be careful,’ we almost always find that our kids are fine and way more skilled than we thought. They can navigate their risk better than we assume. While they may make some mistakes along the way, they will definitely have some super cool successes. Risk assessment grows and blooms in this place.”

So what can you say if not “be careful”? There are actually lots of alternatives—ones where you’re still intervening, but you’re making it less obvious, and are allowing the child to come to a solution themselves.

Mom of four Josée Bergeron of BackwoodsMama.com told PureWow some of her best alternatives. Here are her suggestions:

  1. “Remember that…”

    Here, you can remind them that they might be entering a dangerous territory without actually telling them. Example: “Remember that the stick your holding is pointy, and your sister is standing right there.”

  2. “Notice how…”

    Similar here, but it might be something they were never aware of. “See how that branch is bending as you try to climb it?”

  3. “What’s your plan…”

    Sometimes kids don’t act on a plan—they just do. If you ask them to tell you their “plan” that they have with that big stick, they’re more likely to realize it’s a hazard.

  4. “Do you feel…”

    Bring the action back to them—do they feel like they’re stable on the big rock they’re sitting on? They might realize they could easily fall. Do they feel how hot the oven is? This might lead them to backing away.

  5. “Take your time.”

    Remind them that what they’re doing is in no way a race—this phrase reminds them to slow down if they’re doing something that needs to be handled with more attention.

  6. “Try using your…”

    Are they struggling with something? Would more hand, feet, arm or leg strength work in their favor? Here’s that gentle cue.

  7. “I’m here if you need me.”

    Though they probably know this, it never hurts to remind them. This might open the door to them asking for help when they need it.

Check out more of Bergeron’s tips here!

Are you guilty of using the phrase “Be careful”? Which one of these phrases can you see yourself saying instead?