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What to say instead of "be careful"

When we say be careful, we think we're being helpful but we're not. It can actually throw our children off from focusing on the task at hand - the tree they're climbing, the log they're walking on, etc. When we use it consistently, it sends a message of "you need to be on high alert", making them think they're not safe. We can transfer our worries and fears onto our children, making them shy away from challenges and risks.

I want to embody confident exploration. I want my words to encourage risky play, not make my child shy away from it. It's through risky play that he understands true risk, danger, and how to be safe. This is how he practices making good decisions, processing his actions and seeing what to do better next time.

Here are some things to say instead of be careful:

  • be aware of the ____ coming up ahead (this alerts them to any challenges without instilling fear, and adds helpful cues vs distracting language)

  • what's your plan? encourages their thought process

  • How does your body feel? asks them to notice how their body is feeling, if they're feeling shaky and nervous it's a sign to pause or stop. If they're feeling confident and strong, proceed!

  • what's your next move? Similar to what's your plan, but on a smaller scale. This can also be really helpful for when a child is stuck and wants help, asking them what's your next move and just taking it one step at a time can be really powerful. We don't get to the top of the rockwall by tackling the whole thing all at once, we take it in little bite-sized chunks, often going one climbing hold at a time, one foot placement at a time.

  • do you feel safe? Everyone has their own version of what is safe. Children have altered definitions of safety, and don't understand common dangers, but they will cultivate this with time, and again we don't want to transfer all of our worries and fears onto them. Ultimately the goal is to provide opportunities for risky play in a mostly safe environment. Ex 1: you're at an open field and your child starts running. Could they trip and fall? Yes. But they're in a grassy area without large sticks to fall on, so the environment is relatively safe and the risk is low. You could say "be careful" and distract them, but you just let them run and explore. Your child ends up falling and skins their knee, and you talk about how fast they were going and what they were feeling in their body before they fell.

Ex 2: your child starts climbing a large rope structure. They're up really high, too high for your comfort. You get nervous and think they should come down, but you trust your child's abilities and let them decide. You say "woah, you're up really high. how does your body feel? what's your plan?"

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