By Lindsay Lowe

As parents, “be careful” is a phrase ingrained into our brains to use for every scenario imaginable. 

The child walks by the stove – “Be careful”

The child climbs a tree – “Be careful”

The child carries a cup – “Be careful”

The child walks outside – “Be careful”

Be careful is our catch-all phrase for warning our children to take their time, look around them, and evaluate their surroundings.  If only the children knew that was what we meant by saying “be careful.” I have four-year-old twins and “be careful” comes out of my mouth more than I care to admit. Saying “be careful” shows my worry and concern for what my child(ren) is doing so I try and catch myself from saying “be careful” since it’s usually not very helpful for the situations. I’ve been training myself to ask questions or expand my wording instead of just “be careful.”

The child walks by the stove – “Be careful, the stove is on so it might be hot.”

The child climbs a tree – “What is your next move? Do you feel stable?”

The child carries a cup – “Be careful. It’s pretty full, would you like to stop and take a drink, or should we find a lid?”

The child walks outside – “It just rained/snowed/hailed/etc. The ground might be slippery so watch where you step.”

I found out that when I asked questions or expanded my wording my twins would put more thought into their next steps or plans. I also saw more dialogue or questions from them when I don’t just use “be careful.” We discuss choices, consequences and assistance, if needed. I’m not saying every time I didn’t say “be careful” we had a long engaging conversation about the natural consequences of their actions or a detailed plan on how they will accomplish climbing a tree. It was a short discussion that helped develop cognitive development and problem-solving skills. 

“I also saw more dialogue or questions from them when I don’t just use ‘be careful.’ We discuss choices, consequences and assistance, if needed.”

“Be careful” still comes out often because it’s easy, quick, and children usually get the point. I suggest just being cognizant of what terms you use and when you use them. When I went on a little holiday with my family I said “be careful” a lot more because I was unsure and uncomfortable about my surroundings. The adventure was new to me too so “be careful” was what I used because it’s easy to fall into old habits. 

Now that we are home I take the time to reflect on what was said and how I could do things better in the future. I realize that sometimes my “be careful” comes from a place of frustration and annoyance. I want to work on that as well. I’m not going to say I’m never using “be careful” again. I’m going to continue to think about when I say it and what I can say instead to help my children learn and grow.