We want to protect our children. We want to caution them, we don’t want to see them in pain, we don’t want to see them hurt. We mean no harm in telling our children to BE CAREFUL whilst climbing the tree, DON’T touch the stove, or NO play with tools.
It’s become such a habit, that we don’t realize how often we say these 3 things to our children until we become conscious of it. We mean well and we have good intentions, but what we need to understand is what the long-term effects and implications of our chosen words mean for our kids.
As parents, we often fail to explain to our kids what they need to be cautious of and why. Children are always curious and eager to learn, often asking themselves “What if…?” questions. They want to understand the consequences of not being careful. However, we tend to blame their actions when things go wrong, saying things like “If only they had listened to us from the beginning, this wouldn’t have happened!”
Over time, children who constantly hear the warning “Be Careful” begin to perceive everything as a potential danger. This mindset causes them to avoid certain activities, lose self-assurance, and shun risks altogether, despite the numerous advantages of engaging in risky play. Unfortunately, this fear-based mentality carries over into their adult lives, making it difficult for them to take calculated risks in business or other areas while still being cautious.
It’s important for kids to make mistakes in order to learn from them. Just like learning to take calculated risks, avoiding risk can actually be harmful to their development. By missing out on opportunities to get ahead in life, they may be limiting their potential.
Have you ever noticed that when you tell someone “Don’t go up the stairs,” “Don’t put your feet on the table,” “Don’t forget your homework,” or “Don’t make a mess,” they often end up doing exactly what you told them not to do? This is because language is an abstraction from reality, and different people can interpret and perceive words differently. Words only have meaning when your brain translates them into pictures and understanding.
Now when we use the word “don’t” in a sentence, what mental picture is a child receiving? If we tell them “Don’t eat with your hands”. The mental picture the child is receiving is to eat with their hands. In order to understand what the words “Don’t eat with your hands” mean, children need to visualize what eating with their hands looks like and make a mental picture of themselves doing it, which makes them more likely to do it again!
Even though our children may understand our requests on a conscious level, their unconscious minds may create mental images of the opposite of what we are asking them to do. For example, if we ask them not to eat with their hands, they will consciously understand that they should stop eating with their hands. However, their unconscious minds may still picture them eating with their hands, causing them to continue doing so even after they have stopped consciously thinking about our request.
Avoid using the word “no” as it can create negative language. Using negative phrases in our parenting may unintentionally affect how our children speak and perceive the world. Similarly, using the word “don’t” can create a mental image of the opposite of what you want your child to do. For instance, if you say “Don’t run across the road,” your child’s mental picture might be to run across the road. It’s important to be mindful of the words we use when communicating with our children.
When it comes to communicating with our children, it’s important to choose our words carefully. By using positive language and redirecting their attention to what they can do, we can help them think more positively. This will not only help them listen to us better, but it will also rewire their minds to respond and feel heard. If you want to learn more about how to support your child’s behavior and development, check out CAS Families Support.