Your words are the powerful tools that shape your child's life. You know your influence is profound and eternal... and sometimes that's terrifying. Relax. If you're reading this, it's because you love your child and are looking for ways to inspire and uplift and connect with the itty-bitty love of your life. A heart like that will shine through to your child even if your words sometimes miss the mark. But since you're here anyway, check out these fifty easy phrases to help your kid feel good about herself and closer to you every day.
Inspire Them To Be Courageous
1. I'm right here.
From the big slide to the school talent show, help your little one overcome his fears by reminding him his number one ally is right there with him.
2. I don't know. Do you have any guesses?
Most of us are afraid of being wrong. It's never too early to show your child that being bold about their ideas is the first step to testing those ideas and learning something new.
3. Try it once.
New vegetables. The mini rock wall at the playground. A short visit with an elderly neighbor. Inspire your child to collect new experiences and teach her to be fearless in testing the waters.
Build Their Self-Esteem
4. What do you think about that?
Remember how amazing it felt the last time someone you admired asked for your opinion? So will your child.
5. I know you can do it.
You don't have to tell him he'll definitely score ten goals this game. But you can tell him you know how hard he works, and you know he'll accomplish his goals eventually.
6. That was a very smart decision.
A 2013 study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that the key to building a child's self-esteem is praising her for her process, more than for her ability. "You're a genius" sounds good, but a compliment about her decision-making makes a bigger impact.
7. You deserve respect.
Also: "You deserve to feel safe." "You deserve kindness." "You deserve to be heard." Teach him that basic human rights are important, always.
Strengthen Family Bonds
8. You can talk to me about anything.
Let him know your door is always open, and you'll always love him no matter what.
9. We'll get through this as a team.
When it comes to difficult changes, be careful about dismissing your child's worries by encouraging her to "be strong." Instead, acknowledge that change is hard and help her think of your family as a support system.
10. You're an important part of this family.
Family is where children first learn about cooperation and community. Make sure he knows he's a vital member of the mini-community inside your home.
Teach Them the Value of Friendship
11. I can see you two have a very special friendship.
Odds are, your child will someday worry about popularity. Teach him now that fulfilling relationships are about quality, not numbers, and that you don't collect friends like Pokemon.
12. What are your friends good at?
This may seem like a fast path to comparison and insecurity, but the tone in which you ask is everything. Help your child recognize that different people offer different skills, and that a diversity of talent benefits everyone.
Inspire Them To Think Big
13. Wouldn't it be boring if we were all the same?
It's not always fun when your little one loudly points out the man with one arm who's standing five lanes away in the grocery store checkout. But your child's embarrassing fascination with every single imaginable difference presents some awkward-but-teachable moments.
14. Everything we throw away has to go somewhere.
Your child may not be ready for a discussion about renewable energy, but she's mastered object permanence. That means she can handle a lesson in recycling and reducing waste.
15. What would you do if you were President?
He might only have silly answers for now, but this fun question will get him thinking about what kind of world he wants to live in.
Encourage a Sense of Identity
16. I noticed you do something no one else does...
Is she particularly careful to include shy children in games? Is she good at taking charge? Maybe she asks more questions than other kids. Help her see her unique talents so she can start building on them.
17. You have such a cool style.
Your child is probably so cute that you can't stand it, but if you gush too much about her beauty, she'll link her personal value to her looks. Focus all that "OMG so cute!" energy onto the things she can control--like her love of fun hats or her idea to wear floral leggings with a plaid skirt.
18. I felt really good when you did that.
Tell your child directly that his consciously kind effort had a positive effect on you. He'll begin to understand that he is more than adorable; he's a person with the power to do good.
19. What do you think that's like for her?
Did a neighbor just get an exciting new job? Did a friend just find out he's moving to another state? Encourage your child to take in new information with a sense of curiosity about how others feel about it.
20. What should we do to help?
Whether you're trying to comfort a bereaved neighbor or bringing treats to the firehouse at holiday time, involving your child in the planning helps her develop empathy and gives her a sense of purpose in her larger community.
Cultivate a Sense of Responsibility
21. I have a job for you.
Little bitty kids will feel important when you say this. Older kids will feel... resentful. But either way, you're sending a message that they're capable and they have something to contribute.
22. I'll give you a choice.
We tend to hear this one more in a disciplinary sense or as a handy means of limiting options. But it can also be used as an empowering promise that teaches her to see herself as responsible for an experience. "What do you think: blue jeans or corduroys?"
23. I won't fix it for you.
Make no mistake: he will hate this one. But occasionally pushing him to solve his own problems (especially if he caused them) is an important small step in the long journey towards independence.
24. I was wrong.
This is a scary one, but it's important for your child to hear it come out of your mouth every now and then. You are her first role model. Let them see you take responsibility for your mistakes.
25. It was brave of you to tell the truth.
Even if the truth is awful and calls for a twelve-year time out, acknowledge that her honesty was the scarier choice. It was also the smarter choice and exactly what you always expect of her.
26. What would have been a better way to handle that?
Once he's had a time out and slammed all the doors he needs to slam, encourage a little critical thinking about what other options he had.
Help Them Survive Disappointment
27. You won't always win.
This sounds like a downer, but it's one of those valuable things your little one can learn: she's not always going to be number one. It feels good to win, but losing is normal . . . and she'll learn from it.
28. I would feel that way, too.
Crestfallen kids hear a lot about "not being a baby" and developing a thick skin. But before you come at him with speeches about not letting defeat get him down, acknowledge to him (and yourself) that he's not a wuss for feeling down.
29. Mistakes are how we learn.
In fact, the more things we attempt, the more mistakes we make. The more mistakes we make, the smarter we get. A mistake is a victory.
Encourage Their Voices
30. Let's try that idea.
Actions speak even louder than your words on this one. Even if you know it won't work, validate her ideas by putting them to the test.
31. Let me hear your Elsa voice.
Come up with a favorite movie or book character who serves as a hero to your child. Rather than prodding her to "not be shy," challenge her to embody that character in times when she's prone to shrink inside her shell.
32. How did you do that?
Asking for an explanation is a great way to encourage your child to take ownership of his accomplishments.
Give Them a Feeling of Purpose
33. You were so helpful today.
Grown-ups may be the only ones who ruminate wistfully about their "place in the world," but they're not the only ones who feel better when they know they're needed.
34. Your uniqueness is your superpower!
Remind them early that their ability to do great things comes not just from their talents, but from how they use those talents to carry out their own unique ideas.
35. Let's go exploring!
Whether you venture into your backyard or a local museum, liven up your playtime together with a shared spirit of wonder.
36. You're funny!
Several studies have shown that a good sense of humor contributes to increased self-esteem, self-efficacy, and resilience. Cultivating comedy isn't just about fun; it's preparation for life's challenges.
37. Pick one extra book tonight.
Any chance you have to extend quality time is good for your relationship and a thrilling surprise for your child. After all, you're breaking the rules a little.
Foster a Love of Learning
38. I don't know. Let's figure it out together.
Teach your kid that there's no shame in not having the answers. What really matters is that you know how to seek them out.
39. Here's why.
If you hear "Why?" one more time, you might lose your mind. Just take comfort in the fact that "why" rewards his curiosity, and that will pay off big in the future.
40. See what happens if you try again.
This is an upgrade from "Don't give up" and "Keep at it." When you encourage your child to be curious about the process, you teach her to see the fun of trial and error, rather than banking her joy on the result.
41. I bet we could find some books about that.
So your kid just discovered The Lion King and won't stop asking about hyenas. The questions may be getting old (and weird,) but this a great opportunity to encourage him to follow his interests.
Promote Physical Wellness
42. I like to eat healthy.
Speaking positively about fruits and veggies is obviously important. It's also a preferable way to explain any changes in your diet if you've decided to lose weight. Those kiddos are watching you, and they'll talk about their bodies the way you talk about yours.
43. Let's play outside!
Encourage them to set down the iPads as much as you can.
Help Them Manage Emotions
44. Everybody feels _______ sometimes.
Even adults fall into the trap of thinking they're the only insecure one at this party, the only person afraid of getting hurt, the only one who secretly loves Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Don't forget to remind your child that her feelings are normal.
45. It sounds like you're sad/angry/scared. Is that right?
Reflecting the emotions you see in your child helps him put a name to his feelings. It also tells him you see what he's going through.
46. You don't have to feel happy.
Like "strong," happy is one of those feelings we accidentally teach kids to see as a virtue... and something they owe other people. Let her know whatever she feels is okay; she doesn't have to be happy for anyone else.
Tell Them You Love Them
47. You make me so proud.
Your opinion of her matters than every other opinion in the world.
48. I forgive you.
Saying "it's okay" only diminishes the offense. Saying "I forgive you" makes this moment about your relationship, rather than the offense. And your relationship is stronger than the biggest mistake he could make.
49. I missed you.
She missed you today, too.
50. I love you for who you are.
This is an obvious one, but it's worth mentioning, because your love is everything.
You are the first relationship your child has. Your love makes her tiny world go round, and after all the praise and encouragement, the most powerful thing you can tell her is that you love her -- even if she didn't play nice today. Even if he missed the goal. Even if she wasn't helpful. Even if he didn't try again. Your love is for always, no matter what.
Tell her that.