Why you should stop telling my kid to be careful

stop telling my kids to be careful

It’s a hard thing to tell a well-meaning adult to stop telling your kids to be careful. Especially when they’re a close friend or family member. But seriously, unless someone is in real danger, stop telling my kids to be careful.

Let them play!

I’ll admit that Turtle and Buddy play hard. They like to run, climb, slide, jump, hang and balance with the best of them. But they’re not haphazard. They’re careful in their movements and ask for help when they need it. Watching them play makes me proud. But nothing sucks the fun out of it faster than the very unhelpful call to “be careful.”

Let’s get one fact out of the way: most kids aren’t actively trying to hurt themselves. If Buddy is slowly climbing up a rope ladder, watching his feet as he places them in just the right spot, he is already being careful. All telling him to be careful does is make him stop and question his next move.

He doesn’t need that kind of help. 

And when Turtle is climbing to the top of the slide, she doesn’t need to be warned. She needs to be encouraged. Because if you make her question herself, she’s going to make me climb up to get her.

I love going to the playground with my kids but it’d be nice to watch them play every once in a while. (And no, I don’t feel bad about that.)

Risky business

Photo taken by Amanda Haynie Photography (amandahaynie.com)

As scary as it may seem, our children need to be risky. We need to give them a chance to learn what their bodies are capable of and a chance to get scared, face fears and accomplish something difficult.

When playing on their own, my children will push themselves but will stay within their capabilities. They may call for me to watch them or stand under them if they climb really high, but generally they won’t start something they can’t handle. And if they do, they stop.

This isn’t to say my kids are the same as everyone else’s. But risky play is something all kids need.

Emotional, intellectual and physical risks are an important part of development. Putting yourself out there by auditioning for a school play, writing a story to be published in the school paper or climbing a tree are opportunities for our kids to accomplish great goals and face the potential for failure.

But what if they fail? Won’t that be soul crushing?

If your son didn’t make the school play, he might feel embarrassed.  Your daughter might get disappointed if her story isn’t published. If your son falls while climbing the tree, he might be hurt.

It’s hard to watch our kids feel these things, especially when we could have interjected and helped them avoid the pain. But in every case, our child has the chance to learn a little more about themselves. You can help them reflect on what happened and learn from their failure. This not only helps them improve but makes them more resilient, something more and more kids struggle with.

And imagine how they will feel if/when they succeed! The scary goals can be the most rewarding. 

And remember, there’s a big difference between an unrealistic goal and a scary goal. But I’m not going to delve in to that topic. Because regardless of the goal and their success/failure, saying “be careful” isn’t helpful.

If you’d like to read more about risk taking and development, check out these articles:

What to say instead

I really hate the blogs that tell you all the things you are doing wrong in life. Things like “what not to say to new moms” or “NEVER say this to your dog” drive me crazy. I don’t think the internet needs any more negativity. But I decided to write this post because it comes up a lot in my life.

If the urge to say something to my kids comes over you, I don’t blame you. It’s hard to watch my kids play sometimes. But here are some things you can say in place of “be careful”.

  • Be specific. If my kids are doing something that makes you nervous, offer them specific advice. “You can put your foot there”, “watch your step there” or “I’ll stand right beneath you” are helpful. They won’t question what they’re doing and you’ve warned them of potential dangers ahead.
  • Encourage them. Even if your voice is shaking a little, throwing some encouragement their way will make them try even harder to succeed. Turtle and Buddy love two things in this life: 1) an audience and 2) a round of applause.
  • Talk to me. If you’re really worried about something my kids are doing, feel free to talk to me about it. I promise I won’t freak out on you and maybe I can assuage your fears a little.

3 ways to encourage reasonable risk taking

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you might be looking for some ways to help your kids in the risk department. While you don’t want to push your kids to do something they’re not ready for, there are ways to to encourage your child to take risks.

  1. Stay close. If your preschooler who really wants to climb that jungle gym but can’t bring herself to make the first step, stand beside her. Let her know you think she can do it but you’ll be there to help if she needs it.
  2. Talk about the risks you take. Kids can be motivated by hearing your stories. Knowing they’re not alone in what they’re doing and feeling is a confidence booster. Share your success stories and your failures and model resiliency and improvement.
  3. Read books. In my opinion, there’s not much that can’t be helped by books. Adventure stories and motivational books can give your kids the confidence to try something new. Check out the list of Usborne Books & More books below for my favorite suggestions.
    • Jonathon James and the Whatif Monster – Does your child suffer from a little self-doubt? Read what Jonathon James has to say to the Whatif Monster to get the courage to try new things. (Preschool-Early Elementary)
    • Cordelia – Believe in yourself. Twirl on them haters! (Preschool-Early Elementary)
    • Survival – A guide to survival in extreme conditions and inhospitable environments, fully illustrated with a mix of photos, comic strip art and step-by-step diagrams. Encourage your kids to practice their skills on their own! (8+
    • Write Your Own Story Book – For the creatives who might get “stuck”, this type of book can motivate your writer to keep writing! (10+)
    • The Last Thirteen – Never underestimate the power of a good thriller! (11+)

What do you think? Do you allow your kids to take reasonable risks? Does it bug you when people tell your kids to “be careful”?