How many times have you yelled “Be careful!” at your kids while they were on the playground? It’s an almost automatic response when we see them engaging in “risky” behaviors, like jumping from a high platform on a jungle gym or climbing a tree. The problem is that the phrase doesn’t provide any context for the challenge, and kids will tune it out if they hear it too often (which, let’s face it, they do).

Marriage and family therapist Emily De La Torre recently shared some phrases parents can use instead that will be way more effective. Children need to “develop body trust, resilience, confidence, and self-regulation” and you aren’t helping them develop these skills by yelling “Be careful!” every five minutes, she explains.

Some alternatives to “Be careful!” as suggested by @mindful_madre:

  • What’s your plan here?
  • Do you notice how steep it’s getting?
  • I’ll be right here as you figure it out.
  • Do you feel stable?
  • Take your time.

“Do you notice” phrases are also super helpful in directing kids to acknowledge risks and assess them on their own. These would be questions like:

  • Do you notice how that side is slippery?
  • Do you notice how weak that branch is?
  • Do you notice how close to the edge you are?

“The phrases above deepen creative problem-solving and strengthen a child’s sense of self-agency. The more we allow them to problem-solve, the more they can understand the limits of their body,” De La Torre writes.

Overprotective parents, often dubbed “helicopter parents,” prevent kids from developing a true sense of self and leave them without the skills they need to manage situations on their own as they enter their teen years. Recent studies have shown that helicopter parenting may lead to mental health issues in children, including feelings of anxiety and depression. By making helpful, directed comments instead of shouting “Be careful!” we can get our kids to stop, assess a situation, and proceed appropriately. These skills will benefit them as they move through life without constant parental supervision.

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