Replace “Be Careful” with “Take Care of Yourself” Saying “be careful” suggests a hint of fear. Stopping an adventurous spirit with fear seems less productive than providing a foundation for the day when your child will be able to make choices to keep herself safe. When that time of growing independence begins (around age three or four), you want her to know she can make wise choices. In a sense, you are forming the foundation for personal responsibility.
The words “take care of yourself” have a distinct sub-message. You are doing more than warning your baby that something is not safe. You are also planting the idea that you have faith in her ability to eventually make her own safe decisions. “Take care of yourself” prepares her for the time when you will not always be by her side to protect her. Consider what this concept can mean when she goes to school, becomes a teenager, and matures into a young adult.
Limit the Word “No” and Give Power to the Word For dangerous items you cannot remove or cover, be firm but not angry. These remaining dangers clearly become no-no’s. Getting angry will not help babies or young children understand and may cause unintended consequences such as inhibition or fearfulness around you. In fact, a constant dose of “no” ultimately creates resistance to the word. When overused, the word becomes almost meaningless. Use the word “no” only when needed to emphasize importance. Never shout, slap, hit, or spank at any age. The child’s lack of ability to understand your rationale will only confuse her and cause emotional damage.
I have heard parents issue an almost constant stream of “no.” “No, do not touch that.” “No, stop moving so much.” “No! No! You are being so messy.”
You can automatically reduce your use of “no” by eliminating as many dangers as possible. On the other hand, make a habit of saying “yes” as often as possible. Notice the look of pleasure you usually get when you respond with a hearty “yes” and a big smile. Establish an environment that makes “yes” easier and “no” rarely necessary. When the answer clearly must be “no,” use it with firmness and determination.
Be Congruent: When No Really Means No Danger clearly requires a firm and convincing “no.” You also want to teach her the word “danger.” Saying, “No—danger” will begin to have meaning if you remain consistent and congruent. Being congruent means your facial expression shows concern, your voice is firm (but not loud), and your body language indicates that you are there to protect her. Every method of conveying information must send the same message. If you smile or laugh as you firmly say “no,” your baby will pay attention to your actions and ignore your words. Avoid pairing danger with playfulness. Being congruent means being totally convincing by matching every part of your body with your words.