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