Be Specific

I cringe every time I overhear the words “Be careful!” at the park or grocery store. It seems we parents love this phrase. It makes us feel like we are doing our job – helping and protecting our kids.

But there’s another phrase I used to say all the time in my English class that applies to parenting much better – “Be specific.”  And it’s not advice for the kids- it’s for us, the parents.

I would comment on papers like: “Give me three reasons why you feel that way about that character,” or “List two reasons from the book that makes you think that.”  You probably remember a writing teacher doing the same to you. Details matter.

When Lars is climbing what we call the caterpillar bars, I avoid, “Be careful.” It distracts him. Instead, I say, “Look at your feet.” It reminds him to focus where his focus should be – where he is going to step next.


When I want Lars to be good in stores, I say, “Please keep your hands in your pockets,” not “Be good in here.” What does “good” in this context mean to you as the parent? What behaviors do you expect from your child as you cruise the aisles?

Being specific helps our children so much more than the generic “Be careful” phrase. They get precise instructions that help to concentrate their behavior.

Sometimes that “Be careful” phrase also inhibits natural curiosity, so we put on kids on edge, needlessly confusing them instead of following their interests. It’s distracting and unclear.

I’ve been working on clarifying my expectations and words more when talking with Larsen. It’s amazing what a little tweak can do as we keep climbing.




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