Supporting Parents. Fostering Change.

Be Careful!

If I had a dollar for everytime I warned my kids to be careful I’d be a wealthy woman. Isn’t it the default parent response when we watch our kids exit the house with a skateboard in hand or witness them climbing up a little too high in a tree, or see them take a death-defying leap from a rock to the lake below?

I’d never considered the possibility that there were more effective, appropriate phrases to express my concern for their safety (or my utter panic when they take their life into their hands!). I could have been more specific and said something like, “Does that branch feel strong and safe?” rather than bellowing, “Be careful!” for the 100th time — a phrase they likely tuned out long before.

Turns out that kids are evolutionarily wired to take risks and that rather than keep them from skateboarding or tree climbing we can both calm our fears and instill confidence in them. A blog post on Child Alliance and Nature of Canada’s website has some really helpful suggestions for a variety of situations, such as:

What to say when they play at great heights (i.e. tree climbing)
“Stay focused on what you’re doing.”
“What is your next move?”
“Do you feel safe there?”
“Take your time.”
“Does that branch feel strong and stable?”
“I’m here if you need me.”

What to say when they play roughly with one another:
“Make eye contact before you tackle someone. Make sure they know you are coming so that they can get their body ready.”
“Check in with each other. Make sure everyone is still having a good time.”
“Ask her if she’s ok.”
“Ask him if he’s still having fun.”
“Did you like that? Make sure you tell her if you didn’t like that.”
Research has shown that child’s play —including risky play— has an important function in their development. Studies of young mammals indicate that they take on as much fear as they can handle. They also learn, if one of them accidentally hurts another while playing, that they can work through anger to keep the fun going.

Nature designed children to teach themselves emotional resilience through all kinds of play — including the risky, thrilling and fear-inducing forms that cause us, parents, to yell, “Be Careful!” For more detailed research on this topic see the work of Ellen Sandseter and her 6 categories of risky play.

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