‘Be Careful’ is a phrase that has become all too common in parent-child relationships. Of
course we want our children to be safe, to not get hurt and ensure that the decision that they are
making are thought through, considered and well executed. However we cripple children’s
ability to self monitor and assess risk for themselves when we place that little seed of doubt in
their mind that ‘careful’ is what they need to be.
There are many respected professionals in our world. People who are trying to help make a shift
in the vocabulary we use when we guide and support children through situations that are fun,
exciting, exhilarating and potentially a little dangerous and scary. After all, it is part of our role as
adults to help children navigate their way through the challenges this world throws at them. We
need to remember there are ways we can do this without wrapping them in bubble-wrap and
removing all opportunities for them to ‘look out’ for themselves.
Most children are naturally great risk assessors. When given the opportunity, time and situation
to be able to exercise this skill, they can use their senses to understand the situation they are in
and make measured decisions to plan their response, next action or find a way out! We tend to
stifle that innate ability when we stop them from taking risks in the first place. We remove all
opportunity for risk, we instil exaggerated fear of a situation because we share our own ‘gut
feelings’ with them before they have a chance to listen to their own internal warning signs.
Risk permits children to push themselves to the limits of their capacities and encourages them
to progress. Rising to challenges, embracing risks and taking an “I can do” attitude are
important characteristics of effective learners.
Risk and Play, Josie Gleave, 2008
Across the globe, there is a movement to replace the term ‘be careful’ with the question ‘Do you
feel safe’ or even better still ‘how do you feel up there’. These two options remove our adult, on
the ground judgement from the situation and allow the child to reflect and think about what their
body is telling them about the situation they are in. When given a range of opportunities for them
to answer this question for themselves, they start to find ways to discern between the feeling of
good risk and bad risk. They find their own balance between acceptable and not acceptable
levels of fear, they learn to judge between exhilaration and danger.
Remember to allow your child and our children to play, be free, learn, grow and take the risk!
They are smarter than you think.