I aim to raise robust, self-aware, physically capable, discerning little ladies...
How many times do you hear it fly out of your mouth? A word of caution; a warning for preventing harm. And why wouldn’t we? We don’t want to see our children in distress or danger. We aim to avoid the tears and pain and instead, attempt to create boundaries to steer our children away from unnecessary risk or injury. But I would argue that we need to be more selective with our use of the term ‘be careful.’
I have heard it from both my own mouth and my husband’s many times, but when I started to hear it from my two-year-olds' as often as ‘more crackers’, ‘mummy cuddle’ or ‘open it’, I started to realise the weight of ‘be careful’.
You see, I don’t actually want my daughters to be full of care. Yes, I want them to develop a healthy respect for danger, but I want to encourage and nurture daring, courageous, risk-taking behaviour in them. I want them to give it a try, see if it works, be there if they fall and fail, but to give it a red hot go. I want to teach them to assess, think it through, make a calculated jump, but not altogether avoid a challenge based on the potential for uncomfortable consequences.
I didn’t grow up in a largely adventurous family, although my mother sure did. She is slight but as tough as they come. Her father, an ex-serviceman parenting four daughters in the hot mid-north, took the girls camping and hiking, taught them how to change the tyre of a 4WD, encouraged adventure and a healthy curiosity for conquering difficult physical and mental challenges. To this day, she is brave, extremely strong and resilient and can probably deadlift twice her body weight (or at least she doesn’t think twice about wheeling barrel loads full of firewood up a steep incline at their property).
I think back to school camps where I was too embarrassed to give activities a go because I didn’t want to try them for the first time in front of my peers, or where I backed out of the opportunity to abseil as a late teen in case I froze while a friend confidently eased her way down from a dizzying height.
Something kicked in at about 23 years old where the pendulum swung in the other direction and I threw myself into a calculated adventure. I jumped on rollercoasters (and discovered anti-gravity is an unnatural feeling I won’t be rushing back to), took on death-defying water slides (and discovered a hidden passion for them), headed overseas solo, struck up conversations with strangers, jumped off a boat in Thailand into deep water (should have held my nose for that one – lesson learnt), zip lined through the tree tops in Canada, applied for career promotions, went back to university to complete post-graduate qualifications and felt the fear (truly, I was often terrified), but chose to do it anyway. And I am so grateful that I did.
I think that perhaps there are more constructive ways to teach our children about risk than to throw around ‘be careful’ when observing every potential scrape, trip or tumble. After all, fear is a learnt response and I would hate to think the message I am sending my girls multiple times a day is to conspicuously distrust challenges with unhealthy trepidation.
So what am I doing about it? I must admit, this is a fairly recent observation and so my approach is still forming, but here are three considerations I am proactively using to promote bravery and to encourage learning.
Let them jump, climb, explore their physical capacity and discover their limits without saying anything needlessly precautionary.
Be prepared to wipe up some extra tears and band-aid a few more knees, but also watch the thrill of accomplishment, the sheer joy of conquering a challenge and come alongside them to build on these foundations of learning to expand their world of possibilities. Watch the words you are using while they are attempting to master a skill. Instead of ‘be careful’, perhaps use more helpful and directive statements such as:
Keep your eye on…
Watch out for the…
Swing your legs like this…
If you stretch with that arm you can reach…
Have you thought about…
And don’t forget 'you're doing great!'
Promote awareness and understanding.
I understand this is a little hard to achieve in the highly emotional irrational toddler years, but this is where I am starting. This is where I aim to form the awareness of noticing their surroundings, teaching them how to use their bodies to conquer a physical challenge, help them to understand cause and effect, champion their achievements and promote TRYING as much as successfully conquering. This includes my current challenge of exposing them to a wide range of new foods, tastes and textures (we aren’t winning yet, but I always praise them for having a taste and giving it a try. I would rather they discovered they didn’t like it and spat it out than flat out refuse to give it a go.)
Help them to observe and articulate their emotions.
How are they feeling about the challenge? Are they ready to give it a go? Do they want to start smaller or on a lower step before launching into it? What are their reservations? Are they excited?
Help them understand the difference between healthy fear, adrenaline and excitement. Help them understand that they will be safe, or if there are some things they need to observe, avoid and take into consideration as they undertake the challenge. Be respectful if they don’t want to talk about it. I know I wasn’t feeling very chatty sitting on the front row of my first high-speed roller coaster!
I aim to raise robust, self-aware, physically capable, discerning little ladies who don’t shy away from attempting to master an obstacle purely because they have learnt they should ‘be careful’.
I intend to consciously change my tone, alter my language and where necessary, bite my tongue and be mindful of the message they are receiving and the perception they are forming of the world.
I hope that they hear spoken an unspoken ‘Dear daughter, don’t be careful, be courageous.
I want hours upon hours of delicious sleep followed by hot cups of tea, reading my book and nothingness. But I'll have to get up now to comfort, feed, clean, dress, entertain, love, laugh, play, and repeat.