Teacher Tom: Eleven Things to Say Instead of “Be Careful”

Here’s the article, or visit Teacher Tom to read the original.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eleven Things To Say Instead Of “Be Careful”

In yesterday’s post, I riffed on what is popularly called “risky play,” what author and consultant Arthur Battram argues we should call “challenging play,” what I want to re-label “safety play,” and what one reader pointed out used to just be called “play.”
Whatever we call it, readers overwhelmingly responded favorably to the notion that we need to give children more space to engage in their self-selected pursuits, even if they sometimes make us adults nervous, while at the same time expressing dismay at how difficult it is to break the habit of constantly cautioning them with “be careful.” As I wrote yesterday:

Adult warnings to “be careful” are redundant at best and, at worst, become focal points for rebellion (which, in turn, can lead to truly hazardous behavior) or a sense that the world is full of unperceived dangers that only the all-knowing adults can see (which, in turn, can lead to the sort of unspecified anxiety we see so much of these days). Every time we say “be careful” we express, quite clearly, our lack of faith in our children’s judgement, which too often becomes the foundation of self-doubt.

A couple readers asked about alternatives, such as saying, “pay attention to your body.” For me, “pay attention” has the same flaws as “be careful.” They are commands that give children only two choices — obey or disobey. On top of that, they are both quite vague. Better, I think, are simple statements of fact that allow children to think for themselves; information that supports them in performing their own risk assessment. This reminds me of the “good job” or “well done” habit many of us adults have acquired, in that we know we ought not do it, but can’t help ourselves. So, in the spirit in which I offered suggestions for things we can say instead of “good job”,  here are some idea for things to say instead of “be careful.”
“That’s a skinny branch. If it breaks you’ll fall on the concrete.”
“I’m going to move away from you guys. I don’t want to get poked in the eye.”
“That would be a long way to fall.”
“When people are swinging high, they can’t stop themselves and might hit you.”
“That looks like it might fall down.”
“Tools are very powerful. They can hurt people.”
“I always check to make sure things are stable before I walk on them.”
“Sometimes ladders tip over.”
“You’re all crowded together up there. It would be a long way to fall if someone got pushed.”
“When you fall on people, it might hurt them.”
“You are testing those planks before you walk on them.”
“That’s a steep hill. I wonder how you’re going to steer that thing.”
One of my most important mentors, Tom Drummond, kindly chimed in on Facebook with a few suggestions of his own . . .
“You’ve got strong hands.”
“I saw you pause to think about that first.”
“You did it.”
“Last year you couldn’t manage to do that.”
“It’s amazing how much control you have over your body.”
“Both dancers and rock climbers know balance is in the center of their bodies.”
“It’s called having a strong core.”
“Two years ago a child was hurt when he forgot to look at what others were doing up where you are, so it’s not just about you.”

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