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Fatherly Forum

I Stopped Telling My Kids To ‘Be Careful’ And Started Telling Them This Instead

The following was syndicated from Medium for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].

I like to talk, okay. Let’s just start with that. And, I have noticed that parents who like to talk are prone to viewing children as a captive audience. Myself included. I will find a way to connect coffee, futurism, and Color Field Theory to LEGO or Shopkinz  — it’s called creativity. We tell our kids a lot of shtuff.

father and baby in park

A disclaimer: Most of us humans have a tendency to respond to other humans out of fear, and for all sorts of reasons.

  • We feel scared: Fear.
  • We feel out of control: Fear.
  • We feel mad: Fear-as-anger.
  • We’ve been home for 3 days straight with tiny, powerful people known as kids: Fear.
  • We’re rushed: Fear.
  • We’re insecure, ourselves: Fear. (It just got real.)

Combine a love for talking and common fearful responses with any day of any week and there’s a chance parents will say something that could be said better. It happens. We all do it.

While being careful is passive, being wise is active.

I recently became fascinated by and curious about the phrases that receive the most attention in my home  — those words that are said and heard most often. I made a concerted effort to look at the stuff I was saying on a very regular basis that was not life-giving or even well-thought-out.

Of course, I ask for hugs and kisses. I tell my children I love them, adore them, and that there is nothing that could ever separate them from our love. I tell them they are awesome, powerful, creative human beings every single day. But, I also noticed a few phrases that I lazily kept repeating — mostly when I was frustrated, hurried, upset, or just plain scared.

I have 3 children under 8 — here’s one example of what I caught myself saying, what it communicates, and what I am telling them instead.

Maybe it’s because I grew up breaking things: my arm, my finger, my ribs; I fell on tables, I fell down stairs, I fell onto people. I was an accident waiting to happen all the time. I get that now. And when the past controls the present instead of informing the present, I get scared.

All of my children have an immense desire to live life: they all climb trees way too tall; they run without constraint — or coordination — over rocks; they turn our house into an obstacle course of pillows, chairs, and each other.

In my fear, I can only see the danger. I fail, every day, to see the desire.

So, I do like any good parent would and I say, “Be careful.” Over and over and over.

Most of us humans have a tendency to respond to other humans out of fear, and for all sorts of reasons.

The truth is, telling my kids to be careful is more about me than it is about them. Instead, I want to communicate my hope for their safety while also letting them run, jump, and climb.

Saying be wise communicates my heart for their safety, but it also empowers them — In fact, I want them to be wise much more than I want them to be careful.

While being careful is passive, being wise is active. Being careful is more of a non-choice, but being wise is a constant choosing and act of discernment.

At the end of the day, wisdom is more valuable than safety. I want my children to know that as they chase wisdom, they will find when to be careful and when to take risks.

I have also found that “wisdom” opens the door to better conversations than “carefulness.” Wisdom is a gateway to a larger world of trust, beauty, art, and higher education: by ancient definition, wisdom encourages questions.

Justin Heap is a creator, futurist, designer, writer, and pastor. Check out his website.

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