Be Careful, Be Brave

Four reasons why we should quit saying “be careful” and what to say instead

Spend time on any playground or park and you will hear adults (or even yourself) calling out to kids to “be careful”.  We have the best of intentions and just want to keep our kids safe.  We do not want our kids to get hurt.  The internet is at our fingertips, telling us all of the terrible things that can happen to kids.  We want them to be mindful of their surroundings.  

However, as great as our intentions are, telling our kids to “be careful” can actually be harmful to them. 

Here are four reasons why we should stop telling out kids to “be careful” and what to say to them instead.  

1).  Saying “be careful” frequently actually desensitizes kids to the words.  There will be a time when we will need our kids to be careful because their life depends on it, like when they turn 16 and are driving away from their home for the first time.  When we tell them to “be careful” then, we want them to actually listen and “be careful” or more importantly, to drive safely.  However, if we have said to them five times a day everyday for their entire lives to “be careful”, that phrase no longer carries the warning you want it to head.  Try saving your “be carefuls” for when you really mean it.  

2).  Saying “be careful” implies getting hurt is a bad thing.  Your child is going to get hurt at some point in their lives, it happens to everyone, and, more than likely, they are going to be okay.  Getting hurt can actually be a learning experience.  Children can learn they are capable of getting back up, calming themselves and trying again.  Children are amazingly resilient beings and their bodies are built to handle the occasional tumble and scrape.  If you are constantly telling your child to “be careful” this implies they have actually done something wrong if they get hurt or that getting hurt is bad.

When children become fearful of everything, they stop taking healthy risks.

3).  Telling your child to “be careful” without being specific as to how you want them to be careful instills fear in children and stops them from taking healthy risks.  When you say “be careful” without telling them what to be careful of, children generalize your statement.  Everything becomes a danger to them. Taking healthy risks is an important part of developing confidence and competency.  When children stop taking healthy risks, this can delay development and even lead to depression and anxiety.  

4).  Saying “be careful” implies your child is incapable of doing something without getting hurt.  You want your child to be brave and try new things.  (This is also a healthy part of normal development).  And you want your child to know that you believe they are capable of trying new things without getting hurt.  

Now this doesn’t mean we throw all caution to the wind.  Safety is important.  But by changing our language, we can encourage children to take risks and be safe at the same time.  The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada has some great alternatives to the common phrase.

But my favorites include:

  • Stay focused on what you are doing.
  • Do you feel safe there?
  • What is your next move?
  • Take your time.
  • I’m here if you need me.
  • Do you need anything from me?
  • Please find a safe spot for your stick while you are running

If you find that your child needs support in taking healthy risks or you feel they are overly cautious in familiar situations, we may be able to help.  Please contact us at (217) 203-2008 or email us to schedule an appointment.