What to say to your toddler instead of “Be careful!”

Exploration is a human tendency. It is essential work, especially during the first years of life. “Be careful” is often the first thing we say when our little ones start engaging in ‘risky’ situations. When overused, these words are meaningless for toddlers – & it certainly doesn’t take long for these words to become overused once they’re really on the move! “Be careful” is really our (understandable) anxiety wrapped in a bow – it’s saying “I love you so much & what you’re doing is scaring me”.

“Be careful” is distracting to a toddler who is trying to problem-solve. In order to be effective, our little ones need specifics, instead of “be careful”, try creating awareness of a situation, guiding them as they problem-solve, or giving them specific directions.

For example:

Creating awareness:

  • Do you see how high of the ground that branch is?
  • The fire over there is very hot, we must move slowly,
  • Do you see how the log is wobbly?
  • The table is above you & is close to your head.


  • How do you plan to get back down from that tree?
  • What is your plan to carry all of that?
  • Trust your body,
  • Do you feel safe?

Specific direction:

  • I wonder if putting your left foot on that will help you balance?
  • Do you think holding on with two hands will make you feel sturdier?
  • When you’re on there I need you to have two feet on the ground,
  • Give yourself space when you swing that around.

If there isn’t potential for serious harm, just observing & supporting them while they problem-solve can be a great alternative.

Avoiding “be careful” is certainly not easy to do! But they’re actually safer when we stop telling them to be safe & instead collaborate, guide, observe & trust in their development.

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