I’ve lost count.
My children are 8 and 5 and I have lost count of the amount of times I’ve said the words “be careful” to them. I know it’s a phrase I’ve said many, many times over the years though.
The thing is, as time has gone on, I’ve started to wonder how useful those words actually are.
The thing is, it’s a natural instinct as a parent to want to protect our children.
To keep them safe, out of harm’s way.
When we can’t keep them close by our sides any more we tell them to be careful, to keep themselves safe when we can’t do that for them.
The problem comes when we say it too much.
When every activity is started with a ‘be careful’ ringing in our children’s ears.
If we’re not careful our words will start making our children fearful. Too worried about potential risks and dangers to try anything new. We’ll end up with children who sit on the sidelines and stay small rather than being bold and taking steps out of their comfort zones.
It’s a balancing act between teaching them to not be reckless and letting them take calculated risks and make mistakes.
I think that part of the issue is that ‘be careful’ is such an open phrase that it ends up meaning everything and nothing at the same time.
It means so much that it can make our children feel that danger is all around them and they should be scared of getting hurt or getting things wrong.
And at the same time, it’s so vague that it means nothing.
We’re not giving our children any specifics about what they should be looking out for.
What we need to do is be more mindful of the words we’re using with them.
When they’re coming up to a busy road we need to give them specific instructions about slowing down, looking both ways and listening out for traffic before stepping out to cross. This is so much more useful than a generic warning to ‘be careful’.
And sometimes, that warning isn’t needed at all.
When they go off to play with their friends, try waving them off with a call of “have fun” instead. Let them have the freedom to mess up, to make mistakes, even to get hurt.
It’s all part of life.
The hardest part of being a parent is gradually letting your children go, but we have to let it happen. We can’t keep our children wrapped up in cotton wool. We can’t protect them from the world. We can’t stop them from ever getting hurt.
What we can do is give them the skills to cope when bad things happen.
And they’ll never learn those skills if they never try anything new, if they never push themselves because we’ve told them to “be careful”.
So next time you find yourself about to say those words, stop for a second.
Ask yourself if there’s a better way of saying it, that explains to your child specifically what they need to think about.
Maybe you’ll find that you don’t need to say anything at all, other than “have fun”.