When I’m at the park with my kids I often hear this more times than I care to. Surely these parents aren’t trying to make me insane.

Be careful! Be careful! Don’t do that! Stay in the gravel area! Don’t go past that line! Be careful! Don’t run! Don’t slide like that! This is the rule! Be careful!

It’s even worst when threats are used along with the constant parental commentary.

Be careful or you’re going to have to sit on the bench here and not be with your friends! If you don’t listen to me than you’re not having ice cream for dessert tonight! Don’t do that or you’re going to sit in the car! If you don’t stop running we’re going home!

This kind of parenting must be a lot of work! How exhausting it must be to yell at your children about something all the time. Gosh, I’m tired just hearing them repeat these things over and over. Parents could save themselves a lot of worry and annoyance by just being quiet and letting their children play. Not to mention the energy that could be saved by holding their tongue. What parent can afford to expend all this energy so needlessly?

Left to their own devises, children are often better at knowing where their boundaries in ability and comfort are and they’re even usually better at handling issues with other kids. Constant meddling from parents leads kids to lack confidence in their ability to know when something is unsafe and takes away their responsibility to make good choices when dealing with others and themselves. Parental interference like this is so unfair to children.

Obviously parents must step in from time to time. If a parent is ever unsure about their child’s ability on playground equipment, they can wordlessly move closer in case help is needed. Why not give the child the chance to see if they can succeed on their own or realise they need help. Think of the trust gained if they realise they need help only to turn around and see you calmly already there willing and able.

If a child is truly doing something unsafe the parent can simply remove them from the situation. When they are younger that can be just picking them up and putting them somewhere else. When they are a little older, more explanation may be needed but the outcome is the same. They are removed from the danger. When children know from past experiences that they can trust their parents to look out for them and to work with them instead of doing to them out of spite, anger or “to teach a lesson”, they are more willing to accept the occasional protective use of force.

Parents may also have to step in if children aren’t able to work out a mutual problem on their own. Even then it shouldn’t be parents imposing their will on the children. This is a perfect time for children to learn how to deal with conflict. Ideally we’d like our children to learn compassion for others and to work through the problems without yelling or hurting others. We need to model this behaviour for them and sometimes even help but scripting a solution for the children. “Hey, do you think she’s upset because she wants to try that car too?” “Maybe you both can try the slide at the same time?” “I wonder if it could work if you play with this first and then he can have a try?” This can be incredibly effective and empowering for children to give them some control in helping to solve the problem.

Oh how delightful it would be to go to the park and have the only sound heard be children playing and enjoying themselves. How pleasant it could be for everyone to just relax and have a good time. Children are inherently “good” if you let them.

7 Responses to “Be Careful!”

  1. Mom of four says:

    I’m that parent, and I’ll own it. Children need rules, and some children need to be taught (some, over and over and over again) how to treat others with respect. “Be careful” of others – their bodies, their feelings – it’s an essential part of being human and survival. So many kids aren’t taught boundaries or even to care about others – we live in such a “me first” society – I’d rather my children have rules than do whatever they want.

    Our rules are not that many, but they are important. “Don’t throw rocks” “Don’t climb up the slide” Because that’s where people slide down – go climb the tree or the ropes or the rock wall. “Be careful or watch out when you’re swinging” for little ones that wander into your swing path” They have to be taught to respect our plants/trees, their clothes (until they’re old enough to pay for their own), the windows of the house, etc.

    Just last night I had to remind my 5 year old to stop throwing a ball at the swing set because smaller children were playing there and he had hit them with the ball. I reminded him twice and even told him where he could throw the ball, and then I made him put the ball away because he wouldn’t respect me or the other children by playing safely or by “being careful”. Little kids are selfish – many are not inherently “good” and that goodness must be modeled for them.

  2. Annie says:

    Hi Mom of four. I really do believe that given the chance children are inherently “good”, in that they are born with a willingness to watch, learn from us and follow our lead. Modelling behaviour is showing by doing. It’s not telling someone how to do something over and over hoping they’ll obey because you said so and if they don’t then making them suffer so they learn a lesson. I definitely don’t think this is a respectful way to teach anything but mostly not a way to teach respect! Teach respect by respecting.

    We have rules here too. They are broad and are for everyone- like, we don’t want anyone to get hurt, we want everyone to feel included…. Throwing rocks at someone isn’t all right but I’m not going to spend my whole time screaming for a child to not do it. Something’s not right if I am and I think it’s clear that I need to do something different so that everyone stays safe and still has fun. Perhaps we need to go somewhere else or find some other way to play or maybe it’s time to eat, have a nap or… They probably need some sort of connection and change.

    I think it’s a matter of perspective or priorities because to me throwing rocks away from people is great fun. So is climbing up the slide backwards. Why not? Children can work these things out on their own most of the time. If it’s in the way of other kids, they’ll let each other know, or go somewhere else. There’s no one right way to play and rules for the sake of rules is lame.

    Expectations are powerful thing. If we expect our children to be selfish in a malicious way, they may well turn out that way. I understand my children are immature and are often driven by their emotional or other needs, so how do I work with this so that everyone gets what they want until they start to naturally develop empathy and compassion. I expect my children to hear me when I say that something is dangerous because hopefully I can say it only when it’s really true and not in an effort to manipulate their behaviour.

    Why does it have to be either have RULES and control or have a free for all? Neither of these polar opposites appeal to me. I’d much rather choose a middle ground that offers peace and respect to everyone. I don’t like been yelled at or told how to do everything and I imagine my children don’t like it either. It especially harshes my mello to have to hear others do it in public places, hence my posting.

  3. Rachel Wolf says:

    How much do I love you? You speak my language, mama. I concur on every point. Children know how to be safe and how to work it out and our role is to quietly and gently guide them in that direction. With the best of intentions we do much harm. Thanks for talking the talk and walking the walk.

  4. Annie says:

    Hey thanks, Rachel! It’s always so nice to meet like minded mamas!

  5. Mickey S says:

    Where could we move to be nearer those who treat our children as Competent Beings?
    I will move there please.
    I love reading your words about what we live Annie.
    I share the struggle and the joys of this style of parenting~!
    Great work all you are doing and great work our children are doing too!
    XO (even though I don’t know you those smooches are for you)

  6. Carrie says:

    My husband and I are adopting,and we have been waiting a long time during the process. Itisa blessing in a lot of ways,giving me time to consider how I would like to parent and educate my child,etc. I talk to my husband about key points that I want to strive for,since he is unable to read as much about parenting issues as I am,and thankfully(although not surprisingly)he agrees with everything. Recently,we were out at a holiday party.The children were running around,boisterous but not harming themselves nor anyone at the party. Someone said (really loud and annoyed) “Thosekids are having fun but no one is watching them.” My husband said (really loud and happy) “That’s precisely why they are having fun.” I am glad we agree! I am glad that you agree,too!

  7. Annie says:

    Oh Carrie! That’s a wonderful story and so so true.

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