I Never Tell My Kids To "Be Careful"

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

There are two words that I make a conscious effort to avoid saying to my two children more than any other words in the world:  "Be careful."

I detest this phrase, I really do.  

If only I had a nickel for every time I have heard this phrase from my well-meaning but worry-prone mother.  I'm not sure at what age I began to tune her out when she said it, but i'm sure it was much younger than I might think, as I've begun to notice my 5 year old doing it himself when he's around her.  It's interesting now to watch her saying it to my children, as I can now be an observer of the situations in which it arises.

I have come to realize that the reason I detest "be careful" so much is because 99% of the time it is said to make the person saying it feel better/safer about the situation!  It is usually said out of distraction, absentmindedly, out of not being truly present with our children.  

My mother has often said it from her perch on the couch while chatting with me or watching her favorite show.  Her peripheral vision senses a child moving on the floor near the coffee table: be careful!  Had she actually looked down, she would have seen a child simply putting toys on the table.

At our local trampoline park the other day, a mom chatting with another mom saw her son fall onto his back:  be careful!  Had she actually been watching him, she would have seen that he quickly stopped so that he wouldn't run into a toddler passing by, and he slipped and fell back.  He was being careful, super careful even, to avoid hitting that toddler!  

At the park, a little girl's mom sees her preparing to go down a slide:  be careful!  What?  Be careful sitting down?  Be careful sliding?  Just how careful can one be when sitting and sliding?

And i'm guilty myself.  I tend to throw it out there when I'm rushed - trying to get dinner on the table, pay a bill, get out the door...not really watching their roughhousing in the other room, but simply reacting to the cries of ouch!  stop! don't!  

It's a caregiver's go-to phrase to make them feel like they're involved with the children, have stepped in, given their two-cents, shown they're paying attention...even when they're not.  And it's often said with a sing-songy tone...I know you know what I mean!

Of course there's times it's warranted, like when your son has a chokehold on your daughter(!), or your child is running on slippery ground, or is wildly flailing his arms around and whacking people...but 99% of the time, it's just plain fraud.  And kids know it...that's why they rarely respond to it. 

The Little Mom Who Cried Wolf.

When I feel the words forming in my mouth, I make a concerted effort to stop what I'm doing, pay attention, and get the gist of what is going on.  This way I can make specific requests that will be applicable, effective and convey to my kids that I see them and I understand what's going on.  Giving a child a chance to show his side of the story builds up his self-confidence and his trust in himself to know when he really does need to be more careful.  

"Please put down that sword before you whack your sister."
"We can only go down the slide, not up it."
"Let me help you balance on that wall."
"I saw you stop before you ran into that child - great control!"
"Please take that ball outside before you break something."

I lied...I do say be careful to my kids.  But it's so rarely that I do say it, I say it with intensity and they stop what they're doing, knowing that danger really is present.  

It's a daily challenge, but one that I appreciate because it is an exercise in staying present - with them, with our spouses, with society.  Being present with our kids, and really with anyone is, I believe, one of the greatest gifts we can give them.  It lets them know they're important, they're loved and they're worthy of our attention.  

Go ahead.  Tell your kids you're never going to say be careful again.  I'll bet their little faces will light up with delight and curiosity.

Love + light ~  Kim


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of "strangers" and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids' best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can't Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Spidey Sense — Maud at Awfully Chipper used a playground visit gone awry to teach her children about trusting their instincts.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it's not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she'll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child's safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don't Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of "No" and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she's not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase "be careful!"


  1. So true. It's kind of a kneejerk phrase, isn't it? I love that you have deduced that it's said to make the sayer feel like, "There, I did something" without actually doing something. Heh. There are so many phrases like that I want to keep out of my mouth but don't always succeed. I'll be watching this one!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, it's so hard to watch what flies out of our mommy mouths unknowingly!

  2. "be careful" and "good job" may be two of the most overused parenting phrases ever ;) Love your thoughtful explanation of why we should be more mindful of our words!

    1. Dionna, YES! "Good job" is definitely #2, you are SOOOO right! Maybe I'll write about that next - I find myself cringing when it slips out...it's so hard to prevent it, though...thanks for stopping by!

    2. Dionna, ever since you wrote a post about what to say instead of "good job," I've been trying to change. It's hard but worth it. Now I have another phrase to watch out for! Thanks for pointing it out, Kim.

    3. I'll have to look for your "Good job" post, Dionna! Care to share the link?

  3. I loathe this phrase too and I am guilty of using it! I have weaned myself off it and like you try to only use it very occasionally so I really mean it. Aside from your wonderful explanation of its use it also implies to a child that they are not capable and they start to question their own abilities or they are reluctant to try anything new.

  4. I completely agree with you. A fellow parent and I noticed this exact same thing recently. Its become kind of an inside joke, our kids will say "We are going to go climb a tree" and we will reply in unison "Be careful" and crack up. Because it is truly a useless phrase. This is a great post and great advice.

    1. Haha love that! I bet you both do it in a sing-songy voice too :)

  5. I appreciate your assessment of where "be careful" is coming from--how it's something we say when we're not paying enough attention to what is actually going on.

    I think I'll start reminding myself to check in when I hear that phrase on my lips!

  6. I have been trying to avoid those words, because I noticed really early in my daughter's life "be careful" makes her stop whatever she's doing and immediately fills her with fear. She is usually so careful, if she hears the reminder, she thinks something is really wrong. Of course, when I slip and say them to my youngest, he just giggles and goes wild.
    I like to remind her to "watch your body" on the occasions when she's obviously not paying enough attention to what she's doing, but that's rare.

    1. I love "watch your body," that's a great one! What an awesome, attentive mom you are reducing her fear-load.

  7. I try to watch how often I use this phrase and others like it because, like you mentioned, it makes the phrase meaningless and more often then not, it's really only an attempt to comfort ourselves. Pointing out specifically something you want a child to "be careful" of can be much more effective in helping kids stay mindful, instead of tuning out.

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