Sometimes it's best to say nothing at all!
Our happy place is the beach, even in winter. I love watching the kids run through the long grass, over the sand dunes, across the sand and straight into the cold, crashing waves. I love watching them clamper over the rocks to explore the rock pools and search for crabs. I help them navigate their way with a constant barrage of ‘be careful’ safe in the knowledge that if I call this out from time to time they won’t step on a snake, twist their ankle or swim out too deep. When that doesn’t seem to work I usually call it out a bit louder in case they didn’t hear me the first time or perhaps thought it was one of those less serious ‘be carefuls’.
Aware these words had lost all meaning and become background noise to my kids I did some research. I read the Harvard research and how Dr. Joshua Sparrow, child-psychiatrist based at the Harvard affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital, explained that kids learn words through context and used in too many contexts lose all meaning. I was certainly using it in a multitude of situations - running with shoelaces undone, eating something hot or just walking down a steep set of stairs. I kept reading, I read articles, blogs and opinion pieces from child psychologists to journalists. I now understood my constant barrage of be carefuls was instead just taking away their confidence and teaching them that by taking risk and making mistakes something bad would happen. And so instead I tried to stop, assess the risks and remember my job was to foster awareness and teach them to problem solve.
The day after completing my research, we went for a hike. They climbed rocks and when it looked precarious I instead said ‘can you feel how some rocks are more slippery than others?’ and ‘where are you going to jump from there?’. When they picked up a rock and looked towards each other I instead said ‘can you feel how heavy that rock is?’ and ‘where are you going to put it down?’. Then I watched them jump from rock to rock. I watched as they lowered their centre of gravity, looked around for the next place to jump and keep their hands ready to catch themselves if they fell. As they ran down the dirt path, I was conscience they might graze a knee if they fall and so I said nothing at all!
There's plenty of information available on the internet about this but for a simple list of things to say rather than be careful check out the below link: