We say it all the time—the words seem to automatically fall out of our mouths when we see someone, especially a child doing something we perceive as dangerous. Children hear the words so often they start to become meaningless. What are we really trying to say when we tell children to be careful?
As adults, we can help children manage risky situations without removing the risk altogether. We can allow children to engage in healthy risk, guiding them using more specific words and phrases. Check out this helpful list of suggestions to replace "be careful," from the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada:
“Stay focused on what you’re doing.”
“What is your next move?”
“Do you feel safe there?”
“Take your time.”
“I’m here if you need me.”
"Please find a safe spot for your stick while you’re running.”
“I’ve noticed that there are a lot of fallen trees and sticks to trip on here. Watch out!”
“Sticks need space. Look around you – do you have enough space to swing that big stick?”
“Please keep one end of your stick on the ground!”
“What’s your plan with that big stick?”
“Before you throw that rock, what do you need to look for?”
“That rock looks really heavy! Can you manage it?”
“Please move slowly and carefully near the ___.”
“Do you feel stable/balanced?”
“Do you need more space?”
Ways to help children navigate tricky situations don't end with the suggestions above. Next time you want to say be careful, try taking these steps in your head first:
Is the situation actually risky or is this just a perceived risk?
Does the child need my help or can they handle it on their own?
What can I say that will help them in this situation?
Check out what Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and co-founder of the Children and Nature Network, says about the subject, here.
Read more about the benefits of risk in play, here.
Written by Emily Van Laan