Thursday, March 22, 2012

Be Careful!!

When we became pregnant with Em, C and I had some long heart-to-hearts about our parenting philosophies. We agreed on a great deal of the essentials: we’d try to breastfeed, we wouldn’t spank as punishment, we would cloth diaper (ok, that didn’t happen, but we THOUGHT we would be able to do it), etc.

We also agreed that as parents, we would try as best as we could to avoid overuse of the word “no”. It’s not that the word “no” was to be BANNED from our household by any means. We just thought that rather than saying “Emmy, no!” whenever she tried to do something unwise, like stick her hand in the toilet, we would EXPLAIN the situation and try to reason with her, a la “Emmy, toilet water is stinky. If you stick your hand in the toilet, you will get stinky too!” or we would OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE, a la “Emmy, rather than sticking your hand in the toilet, why don’t you stick your hand under this running faucet of fantastically sparkling clean water?” Our general fear was that if we overused the word “no,” Emmy would become immune to it, which could eventually get us into parental hot water.

I have to say, I think we’ve done a pretty good job at using our “no”s with discretion and caution. *Pat, pat, pat.*

But I was TOTALLY unprepared for the massive amounts of “be careful!”s that have been streaming out of my mouth like hot lava for the past several months.

The other day, I decided to try and monitor how many situations a day warrant my saying “be careful” to Em. What I discovered wasn’t pretty. It went a little something like this:

6:30 AM: “Emmy, BE CAREFUL getting out of bed. Scoot your tushy backwards and climb down. That’s right. Good girl!”

6:45 AM: “Emmy, BE CAREFUL with that hand! Mama is changing you and if you put your hand down there it is going to get full of poopy! Be careful, Em. Careful! Emmy, BE CARE… ugghh…”

7:30 AM: “Emmy, even though Mommy lets you walk around the yard before getting into the car, it doesn’t mean you can run into the street. You have to BE CAREFUL!”

8:45 AM: “You have to treat your books nicely, Emmy. We don’t THROW books, we read them. You have to BE CAREFUL with your books” (honestly, the word “books” in this last sentence could be replaced with one of many words: dolls, food, clothes, blocks… you name it. Em is knee-deep in an annoying throwing phase.

10:00 AM: “Em, please BE CAREFUL with your crackers. Don’t stuff them all in your mouth at one time. You will choke and then mama will be sad.”

10:15 AM: “You have to BE CAREFUL coming down the stairs Emmy. You can’t just run off a step like you are Wylie Coyote. Do you know what happens to Wylie Coyote? He goes SPLAT! I don’t want you to go SPLAT!”

11:00 AM: “Em, we have to BE CAREFUL not to eat dirt. We PLAY in dirt. Even though dirt sometimes looks like crushed up Oreo cookies, we should really not put it in our mouths, ok?”

11:45 AM: “Are you going to feed yourself? Ok, that’s great. Just BE CAREFUL not to put the spoon in your ear… or your hair, Emmy… awwwww, too late! The spoon is on your head. Guess we’re taking another shower..”

12:30 PM: “Em, BE CAREFUL with that toothbrush. You keep gagging yourself because you stick it all the way back in your mouth. Why do you do that, you crazy kid?!”

And that is a portrait of only HALF of our day. By the time dinnertime rolled around, I’m pretty sure I used about 837 “be careful”s. If there was a charge associated with using these words, I’d have some SERIOUS debts to pay off.

My fear is that, if I keep up this verbal habit, the words “be careful” are going to lose their sense of gravity, and Em will start ignoring them. So what do I do? Do I stop using these words?

Maybe I should mix it up, and say “Be wary, dear Emmy” or “Caution, little one!” or “Thou art engaging in dangerous behaviors, my sweet petunia,” even though saying these things will make me sound like I work at a Renaissance Faire?

Or maybe I should come up with a hand motion that signals “be careful”? But if I use the instinctive fingers-together-and-palm-facing-forward technique, Emmy will just slap me five, and mistakenly think I am encouraging whatever it is she is doing.

Or maybe I should just start saying “no” more often??

Sigh. This mothering business is so very COMPLICATED.

Any suggestions from mamas out there? Have you overcome an acute case of the “be careful”s? Looking forward to hearing from ya.


  1. Honestly, I think you guys probably want to use "no" a little more. I know that there was a time that I felt like I was telling my little one "no" all the time. However, the phase does pass. I would perhaps use "no" on the more dangerous stuff... like running out in the street or sticking her hand in poop. Use the "Be careful" (or the like) if she is not in particular danger such as sticking her hand in a "clean" toliet bowl.

    1. Thanks, Kelly.. you may be right. I got a suggestion from another friend to explain WHY things are dangerous (like HOT or SHARP or REALLLLY DISGUSTING, as the case may be) so that Em begins to understand why we are stopping her from doing certain things. Hopefully as she gains understanding of new words, we will be able to communicate ideas like this to her with relative ease. Of course, if Em runs into the street, I do yell "NO"! Just because that is a heck of a lot shorter than "Emmy you are about to get smooshed by an oncoming vehicle now move your little patoooty ASAP!!!" :)

  2. Just stop. She'll figure it out.

    Mine is 18 months. My husband's aunt watches her part time, and taught her to get off the couch feet first. When she saw her trying, she showed her to put her feet down first and praised her when she did. Now K drops off our extra-high bed easily even though her feet are still 4 inches off the floor when she does.

    Explanations are good, but keep them to a word or two. "No touch! Icky! Eeeewwwww." "No touch! Hot!" The longest sentence I say to her when I need her to understand is something like "You may not X." because you know she can understand single words but there's no guarantee she'll understand anything longer.

    The most effective way to get your toddler not to do something is to ignore it. If you're looking at her when she puts her spoon in her hair, let your gaze slide past her. Return your attention to her when she moves it. Praise her for using the spoon properly before she puts it in her hair, because the most effective way to get her to do something is to give her attention for it.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. I will definitely try incorporating your suggestions, and will keep my words brief and direct. I do think I sometimes get a little long-winded in my explanations to Em as to why she shouldn't do something, so what you are saying makes a heck of a lot of sense.
      It's SO hard to ignore something like spoon full of yogurt in the hair (or putting rocks in the mouth, or hands in the toilet)! Do you just ignore the bad behaviours when the child is not in danger of getting hurt? I get why ignoring the bad behaviours and praising the good behaviours would be beneficial, but it is easier said than done. Certainly worth giving a try.
      Many thanks again for your response,