I caught myself saying to my eldest son yesterday as he stood on a chair, “Be careful, you might fall.” I clenched inside as I heard the words come out of my mouth. I have been trying not to utter the words ‘be careful’ to my children. I want them to learn their own limits, I want them to learn to trust themselves and their own judgement. I also want them to have autonomy in their choices where possible, knowing that I trust in their decisions too. I know for myself that I would prefer to listen advice but ultimately I learn best by experience. Also the lessons I have learned by doing are the ones that stick with me, the ones that I cannot forget for the very reason that they are experiential.
Rather than uttering the words ‘be careful’ to my children, I am trying to replace them with factual statements or questions to promote thinking. I’m not suggesting that I am letting my children participate in unsafe action, rather I am trying to teach them to bring awareness to themselves. If they build their ability to make mindful decisions, they will be more prepared for the many times when I’m not around to protect them. When I say ‘be careful,’ it is really a statement about me, as the statement lends itself well to the projections of potential outcomes that my adult mind conjures up. Those mental images could come true, but very likely they will not. And even if they did, even if my son fell from the chair, he likely would not get seriously hurt, and most certainly he would not stand on it again until he was sure he had the skill to do so.
Last week, my younger son was the one atop a chair. In a moment of clarity I said, “While you’re on the chair be mindful of where the edges of the seat are. If your foot goes over the edge, you may lose your balance.” He decided to stay standing, but held on to the table to steady himself. In this case we were both satisfied with the outcome. I could have also asked him, “Do you feel safe standing on that chair?” to bring his awareness to his actions. I usually save the questions for activities that I don’t feel as anxious about though.
Trying to keep my advice to the facts has been allowing me to express concerns based on my own experience, yet my children are able to observe and interact with the world around and make their own decisions based on feedback from their environment. This approach has been working very well for us…when I remember to do it! I still catch myself ‘careful-ing’ many times a day.