One parenting goal is to help raise resilient and independent children. Fostering independence on the playground can be tough whether you have a daredevil toddler, willing to go where you're afraid for them to be, or a reluctant child who clings to your hand, unable to give you a break while they explore. No matter where your little one falls (no pun intended) on the playground skills spectrum, one thing all children benefit from is specific feedback and opportunities to explore, discovering their own abilities and limitations through play. One way we can encourage their development is to try to avoid using one of the most common adult warnings out there: Be Careful.
Be Careful, in the context of infants and toddlers, is a very abstract and nebulous term. We as parents can assess the dangers around a child, but a young child cannot comprehend what those might be. Often Be Careful becomes reinterpreted as "Stop"... but that begs the question "Why did I have to stop?" And further "What have I learned in this moment?"
One way we can reframe playground talk for adults is to make a subtle shift whenever we have the impulse to say Be Careful into an opportunity to give feedback about how the child is interacting in his or her environment (slowly, fast, head first, unsteady) or draw attention to the environment itself (wet, steep, high, open) and then help our child navigate through the environment. We can also help develop executive function skills by specifically calling on them to communicate what they intend to do or how they hope you will be a part of their exploration. This shift helps reduce giving commands, which can result in a cortisol response and subsequent emotional overload and tantrums.
Another subtle shift is complimenting a child when we see them being safe, drawing attention to their body in motion or at rest in a way that we hope to see repeated in the future. This positive recognition helps emphasize a particular movement, speed, or strategy that their growing brains benefit from -- such as identifying how to stop safely at an intersection on their scooter, or moving along an uneven surface. This strategy also limits compliments that can be as nebulous as Be Careful, such as Good Job (when said on its own).
These targeted communications as caregivers offer several positive benefits to our children's development; they nurture problem solving, expressive and receptive communication, body awareness for gross motor and fine motor skills, and provide opportunities for building resilience and self-esteem. We can point out how our child perseveres and overcomes while also helping them know that seeking support from an adult is not shameful and that we all learn at different paces.
These graphics are jumping off points for your own chance to reframe Be Careful and shift into growth mindset language whenever your child is playing. Hopefully they will be useful to you and over time allow you to feel confident knowing your child is exploring the world safely, and you can sit back and chat with your own friends on the playground.