The Danger of Careful

We are at Costco. We are eating lunch. Edward has decided that he no longer wants his pizza, and he’s playing with the cart. I can see that he’s about to slam the cart into another unsuspecting customer, so I called out that dangerous word: “CAREFUL!”

That’s when it hit me (not the cart). I probably use that word about 23 times a day. And I think it might be totally meaningless. “Careful” is that most vague of warnings, meaning that one ought to proceed with the knowledge that there are potentially unpleasant consequences. But is a six-year-old even aware of the consequences? Does he actually know what will happen if he runs forward with the cart in a crowded area? I mean, I think he does, but…

Careful is easy. Careful implies that we have the same amount of knowledge. Careful says that you know what was going to happen, but you just weren’t paying attention. Careful is dangerous.

What if, instead of telling people to be careful, I told them what was going to happen? What if I just told Edward that if he pushed the cart forward he was going to hit someone? I mean, he probably already knew that, but at least I would be covering my bases. And as I look back at my parenting life, I am now absolutely sure that there are times that I’ve told my children to be careful, when they clearly had no idea what they were supposed to be careful about, or how to use that warning to improve their situation.

If I want to use a generic phrase to increase safety and care with my children, perhaps instead I should choose words like “slowly” and “gentle.” That’s what I really mean when I say careful anyway. I mean “be aware of your surroundings,” and “pay attention.” And yes, I also mean “careful,” but with no frame of reference, that word is pretty much useless. So be careful with it.

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Posted in Bad Parenting, Costco, Edward, Parenting.

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