Will you do something for me? Will you stop telling your kids to be careful?
A few years ago, I decided to stop telling my kids to be careful. I made this conscious decision because I realized how foolish it is to tell my kids to be careful. If they are doing something that appears dangerous, either they know what they are doing and can handle it or they don’t know what they are doing and can’t handle it. If they do know and can handle the challenge, my saying “Be careful!” is insulting and plants a seed of doubt. If they do not know and can’t handle the challenge, my saying “Be careful!” is pointless because they won’t understand how to be careful.
What does “Be careful!” even mean? Don’t make any mistakes? Don’t hurt yourself? Don’t let others hurt you? Don’t fall? Don’t embarrass yourself?
Let’s get real, Moms. Is it realistic to think that our children will never make a mistake, never get hurt, never fall? No, it isn’t.
After we tell them to be careful, hoping they will avoid mistakes or pain or the fall, and that thing happens anyway, what have we really communicated to them? We’ve communicated that the unexpected was their fault because they were not careful enough. If they had “only been more careful,” they could have prevented “it” from happening.
For the love of all that is good, stop telling your kids to be careful!
But now you’re wondering, “What’s left? I have to give them some advice when I, in all my parental wisdom, see danger ahead. So what do I tell them?”
Tell them to be aware. But, like everything else when it comes to parenting, it isn’t enough just to “tell them.” You have to show them. You have to model awareness for them.
Teach them to be aware of themselves. Teach them to recognize and honor their strengths. Don’t let them shrink away from their strengths because others will not understand. Teach them to see their weaknesses and help them learn how to manage those weaknesses. Don’t let shame be the cloak you throw over their weaknesses. Your children are complete human beings just as you are, with both dark and light inside. Teach your children to be aware of the brightness of the light so that it can shine into the darkness and help guide their way.
Teach them to be aware of their environment. An environment is made up of both people and things. Being aware of both is essential. My husband tells me that when he is driving, he doesn’t look at the car right in front of him. He looks at the cars a few spaces in front of him, the cars on either side of him, and the cars behind him. He says that if an accident is going to happen, it will start in one of those places and he wants to be aware of what may be coming and what his options are if he needs to act quickly. He is being aware of his environment. Tell your child, and model for him, the ways in which you can evaluate an environment to determine its safety. Teach your child how to judge a person or group of people and a physical environment for safety.
Don’t freak out—I’m not talking about judging based upon race, creed, or any of those things. I mean judging a person/group based on the level of their “danger factor.” What does it look like when a crowd is about to riot? Do you want to be in the middle of that? What are the signs of a group characterized by disrespect for others? Do you want to be known as one of them? How do you recognize a narcissistic person? What are the typical signs of an abusive partner? Teach them these things and make them aware of the presence of these kinds of people and groups.
Teach them to be aware of their options. When you are faced with a problem, talk to your children (when it’s age appropriate) about the options you have and the back-up plans you may make if your first option doesn’t go according to plan. Be sure that you don’t seem as if you are consulting them for advice, but it’s healthy to let your children see you work out a problem. It’s good for them to hear your inner dialogue sometimes because they learn from that. Talk to them, too, about the consequences of the decisions you face. When they are older, talk to them about the consequences of the decisions they face. Use “if-then” scenarios like “If you go to the party tomorrow night, then you may be too tired to do your homework on Sunday. Or, if you go to the party, then you may have to do your homework tomorrow afternoon before the party.”
What does it look like when you put all this awareness together?
Let’s say…your nearly adult daughter decides to go out with Johnny from the Jungle. You don’t caution her to be careful. (Really, do you think she would hear you anyway?) Instead, you advise her to be aware and you help her question herself, the environment and the options. Is young Jane strong enough to climb trees with Johnny or does she hate getting her nails dirty? Are Johnny’s jungle friends good tree dwellers? Is it monsoon season and if so, is Johnny’s hut high enough to not require swimming from the bathroom to the living room? If Johnny decides to get high in the coke tree and she goes with him, is she aware of the logical consequences imposed by nature and society upon those who do such things?
Let’s say…twelve year old Junior decides he wants to take up mountain biking because all the other kids are doing it. You don’t tell him to be careful. (You can actually hear him roll his eyes at you before you even say it, right?) No, you help him practice awareness. Help him analyze his own reasons for joining the endeavor. Help him judge the level of his passion. Help him explore the environment of mountain biking, including where the biking and training take place and who the people are who do the biking and training. You’ve seen biking accidents before, so prepare Junior for what could happen by helping him be proactive to prevent negative outcomes.
Mind you, I’m not saying that you should preach fear instead of saying “be careful.” It would be just as damaging (maybe more so!) to communicate “Be aware of all the bad things that could happen to you!” It is possible to have meaningful conversations about potentially bad things without resorting to scare tactics. It starts with “I hear you saying you really want to do this. I love your passion! Let’s talk about some things you think you’ll need to have and do, some things you think you’ll need to be aware of, in order to have a good time.” Then, trust your child to help you guide them. Kids are a lot more intuitive than we give them credit for. This intuition can come out as surprising bursts of wisdom, if we don’t slather doubt and fear over it first.
Angela Mosley is a non-fiction author and editor. She is also the mother of three children, 2 sons (6 yo & 5 yo) and 1 daughter (3 yo). When she isn’t busy keeping three small humans alive, she is either writing to complete her first three books in the Deeper Discussions series, to be released Fall 2016, or editing to help other entrepreneurs release their messages in a more powerful and distinctive way. Angela believes that words have the power to change our stories, and that every person’s story needs to be told. Learn more and visit her website!