9 Things to Say Instead of “Be Careful!”

By Maureen Karwowski

As an occupational therapist who works with children who have challenges with their coordination skills, I catch myself saying “be careful” far too often. Many children with sensory processing difficulties have difficulty with body awareness, low muscle tone and decreased eye-hand coordination. I wonder just how meaningful the warning of “be careful!” is to a child struggling with these challenges. I also wonder how many times in a day a child with these challenges hear these words. My guess is too often.

Instead of general directions such as “be careful” or “watch what you are doing” a specific instruction would be more helpful. Here are 9 examples of what to say instead of “Be Careful!”

  1. Look at your feet so you don’t step on anything.
  2. Hold on tight with two hands.
  3. Big steps over the toys.
  4. You are too close to the table, walk around it.
  5. That bridge is wobbly, hold on tight.
  6. Use a gentle touch with that toy.
  7. Check with your eyes to make sure the coast is clear.
  8. Stay low so you don’t hit your head.
  9. Slow down so you are safe.
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One thought on “9 Things to Say Instead of “Be Careful!”

  1. This is a good question. In my training and talks on risk I flag up how easy it is to say “be careful” when the one thing that is abundantly clear from a child’s behaviour is that they are being careful. In this context, saying “be careful” is likely to have one of 2 results. First: the child thinks grown-up is stupid (“can’t they see I’m being careful?”). Second: the child thinks they’ve missed something, which could make them unnecessarily anxious, possibly increasing the likelihood of an accident. I have heard this happen.

    This flags up another response: don’t say anything. I am not being flippant. As a play advocate and a parent, one insight I have learnt from adventure playworkers is the value of non-intervention. The first question to ask is “do I need to say anything at all?”

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