There are a few phrases and words I hear constantly while out and about with my boys. I’m not sure ‘grown-ups’ even know they over-use these terms as much as they do. Neither did I, but now I am trying hard to think about the language I use and where these words and phrases originate from. I want to parent my boys safely, but also allow them freedom to explore. And parenting safely seemingly means using one very prominent phrase: “Be careful”.
I found myself telling my pre-schooler to be careful carrying a glass of water. Be careful sitting on the stool. Be careful jumping off the table onto a pile of cushions. I know what the consequences of jumping from the table and missing the cushions are, but I also know how much fun it is when you get it right. I’m wondering whether there is a better way to communicate my concerns without spoiling the fun? Children take risks in order to understand the world around them – to find their limitations and explore their potential. And in doing so, sometimes they’re going to get hurt. When they do, it’s horrible, you want to wrap them up in love and assure them it won’t happen again. Which of course, we can’t. We can’t make that promise.
We know this. So how can we facilitate risk but minimise danger? Add more cushions to the pile, that’s practical.
Or begin using more precise language. Explain clearly what it is we’re asking them to be careful of. Even if it sounds a little obvious: “Do you know the table is slippery when you have your socks on?” or “make sure you’re concentrating and choose your landing spot before you jump.”
It felt like a revelation once I realised how many times I was saying “be careful”. I still want to blurt it out throughout the day because it’s so engrained into my thought process. Beginning to use more precise word choices has been like suddenly telling my left hand: “Okay, mate, you’re in charge now,” and my left-hand replying: “Why? Everything was fine the way it was.”
Have I noticed a difference? Yes. He has started telling me about his extra efforts. When he’s walking across the back of the sofa, he’ll proudly tell me he’s using his balancing skills. When I set his breakfast out for him in the morning, he’ll say: “Look, Daddy, I’m using two hands,” while pouring milk from the jug onto his cereal. There have been fewer accidents concerning spillages and I feel less anxious while he’s exploring his surroundings. See how many times you hear yourself say “be careful” in a single day. It might surprise you.
BY ADAM GLENNON