“Be careful,” versus “be wise.”

Shtuff I’m Not Telling My Kids

Let’s jump in to a three-part blog series on all the shtuff we tell our kids and what it really communicates to them and about us. Here’s part one.

Disclaimers, first.

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 Legos or Shopkinz — it’s called creativity. We tell our kids a lot of shtuff.

Another 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 three 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.

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

“Be careful.”

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 and I say, “Be careful.” Over and over and over.

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.

Instead of saying “Be careful,” I now say, “Be wise.”

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.


*I am not suggesting we never urge our kids to be careful: from hot stoves to busy roads, there is need to be cautious: but even so, it should be a conversation that speaks of both caution and wisdom.