I find myself saying watch out and be careful way too often. Why? Because toddlers can be careless and completely unaware of their bodies. When I say watch out, I am really saying you are about to crash into something or someone or hurt yourself in some other way.
The more specifically we can name for our children what we are trying to warn them about, the easier it will be for them to develop increased body awareness and self control. I’ve been trying to find ways to more accurately name what is it I want my kids to pay attention to when be careful is about to fly out of my mouth. Think action — it generally starts with asking them to “look” to make sure their next move does not put themselves or someone else in harm’s way:
Look around first with your eyes.
Do you see where your sister is?
Look down. Is there anyone on the slide below you?
Look behind you. If you are going to use that bat, look all around you to make sure no one is nearby.
Your body looks like it needs more space. There is lots of space over there away from your sister.
By specifically naming for our children what to watch out for, they begin to internalize the concept of “enough space” to perform their next jump, slide, kick, or swing. When Keener was holding a bat last night I asked him, Do you have enough space? He looked around and said, “Grace is far away and you are far away.” This question teaches him to look around first before he swings. Because most rules aren’t black and white, the more we can help kids evaluate the right conditions for certain behaviors, the less we will have to correct them on the back end.