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Last Updated on February 27, 2018

The Danger of Saying “Be Careful” to Children

The Danger of Saying “Be Careful” to Children

Whenever the children leave the house to go out and play, parents feel the need to protect their safety. Instinctively they tell them to be careful. Parents do this to instill a sense of caution in them so that they don’t get hurt. It’s a reflexive reaction to tell the kids to “be careful” when they set out to play. When they join their friends to ride their bikes, parents tell them to “be careful.” When they’re running around the yard, climbing trees, using sharp tools during craft time; parents’ instinct tells them to say, “be careful.”

Parents are protectors. To prevent the kids from hurting themselves, parents attempt to use precautionary language to keep their kids’ guard up. The problem is, “be careful” is so vague and commonly used that children have become immune to this phrase.

Saying “be careful” to kids has become a habit.

Since the children were little babies, it has been parents’ innate obligation to watch over them and keep them safe. But as the children grow, they require a little more freedom. Parents can’t watch their every move anymore. Since supervision becomes less prevalent, parents find other ways to look out for them.

Some parents instill caution in kids by suggesting alternatives. They may tell their children to walk instead of running into the street. Always look both ways. To stand back and allow cars to pass by instead of attempting to jump on them.

Other parents take the shortcut and say “be careful” to their kids.

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There’s a reason that parents habitually tell their children to be careful. Ever since we were small, that’s what we were told as well. It just seems like the normal way to warn children. At home, your parents would always tell you to “be careful” when you went swimming in the pool, or out to play red-rover with your friends. Teachers would tell you to “be careful” when you ran out for recess.

There’s seemingly nothing wrong with it. The phrase is always passed on with good intentions. That is why we habitually tell children to be careful when they engage in possibly hazardous activities.

But preventative language like “be careful” is only helpful when it is accurately explained. The simple term “be careful” isn’t going to cut it anymore.

“Be careful” can mean so much that it means nothing.

The phrase holds so much meaning, that it is rendered meaningless. Without any specific details or guidance, the children don’t know what they need to be wary of. They need to be provided with an explanation on what they need to be careful of and why. What will happen if they don’t proceed with caution?

Without accurate explanations, children might begin to perceive everything as a threat. The vague, “be careful” could translate to be careful of everything around you. Everything is a danger. With this value implanted in them from a young age, they may grow up to believe that nothing is safe.

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They may become paranoid and meek. They will be less likely to engage in physical activities because of the impending possibility of injury. They won’t step outside of their comfort zone because it’s just too scary.

Playing it safe means watching from the sidelines.

Children need to have the freedom to make some mistakes on their own and learn from them. If you make them believe that nothing is safe, they will believe that the only way to exist and survive is to avoid risk by all means possible.

While safety is important, this avoidance of risk could be detrimental to their development. When they are wrapped up in keeping themselves “safe”, they could be missing out on loads of opportunities.

By always using caution, children will grow up to only engage in activities that they know are completely certain and free of risk. But the reality is that nothing is certain. There is always some level of risk regardless of your level of caution.

In order to get ahead in life, you have to take risks. Opportunities are basically synonymous with risks. There’s a chance that it won’t work out. But there is also a chance that it will. Being “too careful” will cause them to pass up on opportunities. This can hinder them from achieving success. Success never came to those who were too afraid to go after it.

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If children are raised to always fear the unknown and never take any risks, they may be doomed to lead a mediocre life. They’ll never have the ambition to strive for greatness. Instead they’ll spend their lives wishing they were more determined, regretting all of the chances that they never took.

Guide, don’t warn.

Let the children know to proceed with caution, but don’t make them be afraid to fall. They need to learn how to get back up, dust themselves off, and move forward.

When reminding them to be careful, be more specific. Explain the situation at hand, and what exactly they need to be careful of. Don’t give them a vague and flawed sense of danger. Tell them why the activity is dangerous, but don’t limit their choices. Still allow them to engage in the activity. Allow them to discover boundaries on their own and develop their own sense of caution.

As you know at this point, “be careful” is just too vague.

There is nothing wrong with the phrase “be careful” when your intentions are pure. But children need more information. They need to know what specifically they need to be careful of and what might happen if they aren’t.

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Here’s what you can say to give your children a bit more of an explanation.[1]

Words with more meaning

  1. Stay focused on what you are doing.
  2. Watch out for other people and give them lots of space.
  3. Check in with each other. Make sure everyone is having fun.
  4. Please move slowly and carefully near the ____.
  5. That rock looks heavy, can you manage it?
  6. Look around you before throwing things!
  7. *While climbing* Does that feel safe?
  8. Make sure you have space before running with your stick.
  9. Keep one end of your stick on the ground.
  10. Don’t run near the edge of a pool.
  11. Watch your friends, they might not be looking.
  12. If your toy goes into the road, call for an adult.
  13. Tell your friends if you don’t like how they play.
  14. Pay attention while climbing so you don’t slip.
  15. Take your time.

Let them fall, for good.

They aren’t always going to listen to you. Some lessons they need to learn for themselves. Give them the freedom to do that. Those who are willing to take risks are the ones who strive for success later on in life.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

[1]Child & Nature Alliance: When you want to save “be careful”

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Anna Chui

Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Published on September 18, 2018

Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents

Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents

When people separate or divorce, one of their biggest challenges is coparenting their children together. As a Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago, I often see divorced parents struggle with how to raise their children together.

One parent has a certain set of rules, and the other does it completely differently. It can be a real challenge to navigate this part of the divorce process.

Yet over the years, I have seen couples successfully raise their children together after a divorce. It takes a little attention and focus, but there are number of key strategies that these divorced couples employ to make coparenting much easier.

1. Communicate clearly.

When couples who are able to communicate coparenting items easily and without much emotion, they get a lot of the work of parenting done quickly. Yet when their discussions about parenting items are filled with emotion, then it muddies the waters.

If you find yourself fighting with your ex about all sorts of coparenting issues, you might want to set up a method of communication which reduces the emotion.

Perhaps a dedicated email thread that only has parenting items might keep the channels of communication more clean.

2. Clarify rules.

Many families we see here at our practice in Chicago have different rules at different houses for their children. This can certainly work, but the rules need to be clearly defined by the parents.

Where children struggle is when they are unclear about what the rules of each house are, and then try to manipulate the rules to get their way.

Clear communication of what the expectations are at each house can go a long way towards creating balance and stability.

3. Get out of the past.

It is important to be sure that any lingering items from your marriage stay as much in the past as possible.

Of course there will by dynamics from the marital relationship that persist in the coparenting relationship, but couples benefit by bringing their relationship out of the past and trying to create new ways of interacting around parenting items.

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4. Don’t triangulate.

One of the more difficult dynamics that we see in Family Therapy is when couples triangulate their children.

Triangulation is when whatever is unresolved between the parents gets transmitted through their interactions with the children.

In other words, the parents hostility and tension gets absorbed by the children and the children start acting it out. It can be very confusing when this happens, and Family Therapy can significantly help when this dynamic occurs.

5. Bless and release.

One thing that troubles a lot of people after a break up or divorce is that they continually hold on to old grudges or complaints.

In order to coparent more effectively, it can be helpful to bless and release your ex. This mean wishing them well and letting go of old hurts.

Can you hope for our ex that they have all good things and find the life and love that they are looking for? This sort of neutrality can go a long way with coparenting from a more balanced place.

6. Practice mindful parenting.

Many experts will tell parents to try to stay more calm than their child. If you are anxious, stressed and angry, then your child may become those things too.

Coparenting with an ex adds another layer of difficulty and potentially upsetting emotions. It is important to practice being mindful of your anxiety, stress and anger levels when parenting, and also when interacting with your coparent.

Finding ways to stay relaxed and put things in perspective can help.

7. Develop a support network.

Having a good team of trusted people in your corner can help to make sure you don’t feel alone in the process of coparenting. Talking with other parents who are divorced or separated might help you feel less alone in the process.

Additionally, having a trusted counselor or therapist in your corner who can help you look at your blind spots, can make a big difference.

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8. Practice presence.

Staying in the moment when parenting can be a useful thing whether you are coparenting, doing it alone, or alongside your partner.

Our minds can race all over the place when we are managing a lot of things in our family life. Yet taking time to stay in the moment and be present with your child will help calm and stabilize the situation.

If you are worried about future events, or stressed about what happened before, it takes you out of the present, which can be full of opportunities for meaningful experiences with your child.

9. Practice “I” statements.

A lot of couples will get in trouble by blaming their ex in front of their child. It can be difficult for them not to criticize their ex, or say something disparaging. Yet this can have a negative impact on the child.

Instead of pointing the finger, it helps to practice “I” statements. Talk about your frustration and how you get overwhelmed by difficult situations rather than commenting on how your ex made mistakes or is selfish.

Talking about your own experience helps you own your own power in the situation.

10. Learn to compromise.

If coparents are constantly arguing about their schedules, money, or what the rules are, then it can cause a very hostile and chaotic environment for the children.

Yet couples who learn to work together and compromise on the endless, daily family items that need to be negotiated, end up creating a more stable and calm environment for their children.

Even if you insist that you should have the children on a particular holiday because your ex had them the previous year, being willing to compromise and make alternate arrangements can pay off in the long run.

11. Give a little.

Coparents who are generous with one another, even if they are still upset about their breakup, help create an environment of wellbeing in their family.

If your coparent asks for a random extra weekend with the children, and you know that it is your turn that weekend, being generous and giving a little can go a long way towards generating good will.

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Withholding and counting each fairness and unfairness creates a less generous and more stingy family environment.

Of course you don’t want to compromise yourself and give over too much, but keeping on the lookout for when you can give just a bit more, can help the wellbeing of everyone involved.

12. Talk with your children.

Parents who worry about the potentially negative influence that their ex will have on their children do well by talking more with their kids.

If you are worried about what your ex might say to your child, it helps to have a good, open line of communication with the child such that you can better understand how they see the world.

It helps if they can talk with you about their confusion or any conflicting messages that they hear from their other parent.

13. Leverage your relationship.

Your child is hard wired to want to connect with you. Parents do well to know that the greatest influence that they have on their child is their relationship with them.

Your children are attached to you, and even if they act as if they want nothing to do with you, they are still wired for your approval and care.

Finding ways to leverage the inherent attachment can help create the sort of life that you’d like for your child.

14. Attract, don’t pursue.

Don’t overly pursue a connection with your child, but instead attract their interest to connect with you. When parents are too eager to chase a child who is distancing, then the child will often distance more.

Building on the inherent attachment that your child has with you, try to find ways to create harmonious and connected moments rather than asking them tons of questions and trying desperately to create closeness.

15. Open up.

Share more with your child about what you love, and what you are passionate about. Children who hear more about what parents care about tend to follow their own passions.

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Think about how many famous athletes or musicians children are also athletes or musicians. Children tend to follow the lead of their role models, and if you share what you love, then might emulate that pursuit themselves.

This can go a long way towards creating a lasting bond that can withstand any tension in a coparenting relationship.

16. Embrace change.

A lot of coparents have hidden regrets or live in the past. They wish their family situation could be different, but don’t know how to make it better.

Embracing change can help us move out of past hurts and regrets and find new ways to create the sort of changes we are looking for.

Perhaps you can find new ways to interact with your ex that might foster new family dynamics.

17. Make room for new possibilities.

A lot of divorced or separated couples that I work with tend to become hopeless about anything new happening in the family dynamic. They see patterns of interaction repeat themselves over and over, and they anticipate it will continue this way forever.

Yet if there is one thing we can count on is that things will eventually change. Making room in your mind for new possibilities can alleviate some of the hopelessness that sometimes comes with difficult coparenting situations.

Yes you are divorced, but It is indeed possible to be good coparents. Communication and patience go hand in hand if you want to raise happy and healthy kids as a divorced parent.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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