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Risky Play? Things You Can Say to Kids Instead of ‘Be Careful!’

Thrill seeker! (Image:Flickr)
Thrill seeker! (Image:Flickr)

“Be careful,” I yell as my 7-year-old and 3-year-old position themselves on their tandem Billy Cart and tear off down the hill…

…”Be careful,” I hear my self saying again, as I watch them clamber onto the trampoline, wrestling each other, and jumping very high…

I say those two words too much, and yet I don’t think it makes any difference to the outcome of their safety whatsoever. I think those two words have lost all meaning at my house.

‘Be careful!’ is just another predictable phrase parents over-use, and children ignore.

Too much safety can really put a dampener on the fun (Image:Wikimedia)

Too much safety can really put a dampener on the fun. (Image: Wikimedia)

In fact, my children are quite competent at these activities I’ve allowed them to do—so why do I feel the need to say those words at all? Risk is everywhere, and the point is not to avoid risk, but to give children opportunities to practice risk assessment, and make wise choices themselves.

If children never faced risk in their play, they would never learn how to recognize danger.

Children just love to play with sticks, what can we say to help them be safe? (Image:swambo/flickr)

Children just love to play with sticks—what can we say to help them be safer? (Image: swambo/flickr)

In his blog, Teacher Tom discusses critical thinking as being the best safety precaution for children there is.

Teacher Tom addresses danger from a clever angle—allowing children to maintain choice and ownership over their own safety; it’s essentially about empowerment.

Instead of preaching, we can place concepts of responsibility, and self-awareness into the minds of curious kids.

Playing in water makes many adults nervous for good reason (Image:Jan Fidler/123RF)

Children playing in water makes many adults nervous, for a good reason. (Image: Jan Fidler/123RF)

Sometimes, reverse psychology is worth considering, as it places the ball back into the children’s court. There, they have a chance to think it over, and make a choice—hopefully, a wise one.

Children are more capable than we give them credit for, despite our worse fears. We can often trust their judgement on what feels safe to them.  With a thoughtful and well timed comment from us, we might provoke a response that honors safety, or gets them thinking about it—at the very least.

What can we say to help children assess their safety? (Image:flickr)

What can we say to help children assess their safety? (Image: flickr)

What Teacher Tom says when he sees danger lurking:

  • “Which one of you is going to fall?”
  • “If you don’t want to breathe anymore, you can put a whole lot more around your neck”.
  • “Hey, swing in that direction and see if you can hit your head on the tree”
  • “Hey, are you guys planning on running over anybody?”
  • “I’m going to watch and see who gets hurt, so I know who I’m going to take care of while they’re crying.”
  • “Should we run out into the street?”

At first glance, these statements sound a bit cheeky. But they are meant to present a thinking process to a child in a fresh way, allowing them to consider the consequences of their actions.

Children can have a rich learning experience if there is some 'risk' involved (Image:Sasin Tipchai/123RF)

Children can have a rich learning experience if there is some ‘risk’ involved (Image:Sasin Tipchai/123RF)

This discussion is purely food for thought and a perspective. As a parent, or guardian, you need to trust your own judgement, and be a leader on matters of safety.

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