"No! don't! stop!": Mothers' words for impending danger

Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Karen E. Adolph, Katherine A. Dimitropoulou, Elizabeth Zack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives. In 2 studies, we aimed to describe the content of mothers' verbal warnings to their young children and to investigate whether mothers modify their warnings based on the type of dangerous situation and children's age. Study 1. Mothers of 12-, 18-, and 24-month-olds reported in a telephone interview the words and phrases they would use to prevent their children from falling, touching dangerous objects, ingesting poisonous substances, and running away. The words "no," "don't," and "stop" were the most frequent warnings across ages. Mothers also used warnings to elicit their children's attention, regulate children's location, modify children's actions, and to highlight the properties and consequences of specific dangers. The content, diversity and complexity of mothers' warnings varied with children's age and the type of dangerous situation. Study 2. We observed mothers in the laboratory as they warned their 12 and 18-month-old children not to walk down 50° slopes. As in Study 1, mothers primarily relied on the words "no," "don't," and "stop," but again used warnings to elicit attention, regulate location, modify actions, and describe the danger. Mothers used more complex and diverse warnings with older versus younger children. Conclusions. Although simple warnings, such as "no," "don't," and "stop" hold privileged status at all ages, mothers express a rich array of warnings that are attuned to children's age and the dangers of the situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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