There are moments in our youth which we remember for many years to come. Not because of what occurred but because of how we felt. Some childhood moments made us angry or lonely, while others made us hopeful, made us laugh, or made us feel optimistic. The words we say and actions we use have a lasting effect on the way our children will see the world. Some of the simplest and shortest words can make them feel better about themselves and continue to encourage them through hard times as well. Here are 14 things every child should hear.
The words “I love you.”
Although you can give a child too many things, you can never give a child too much love. When you tell your children you love them, it lets them know they are valuable to you. Loving them gives them courage and time to grow. It allows them to make mistakes. It provides healing and produces feelings of joy. These three little words develop a child’s ideas of their personal significance in the lives of others. It takes away fear and provides them with the confidence and security they will need to sustain them throughout life. Saying “I love you” to your children teaches them to love themselves and how to love others.
“I’m proud of you” or other compliments.
In order to develop a healthy sense of self, children need a surplus of affirmation and validation. Children crave having your support and blessings, and direct most of their behaviors towards the gaining of your approval, love and acceptance. Though you may not fully agree with the way they choose to do everything, you must commend them on working to complete the hardest task of all — the journey into their independence.
Constantly giving affirmation keeps their self-worth high. Although many parents tell their children they are proud, the difference is made in quantity, creativity, and sincerity. Here are a few other ways to say you are proud: “Your ideas are wonderful,” “I love how creative you are,” or “That was a smart choice.”
You child goes to pour milk in his cereal and it spills all over the counter. “Go get two rags, and I’ll help you clean up.” Teach your child it’s OK to make a mistake, even a messy one. Show that you are not going to get furious and that things can be fixed.
For older children, admit when you make a mistake and lead by example on how you deal with that mistake. When you can admit you are wrong, you show your children you are human and that you have compassion for how they feel on the other side of you. Taking ownership of your mistakes creates an environment of tolerance and open-mindedness between you and your children, which later becomes the foundation upon which they will learn to build all of their future relationships.
Sometimes the truth hurts. However, valuing honesty is an important virtue to teach your children. One mistake most parents tend to make is that they confront their kids accusingly with anger or threats. But if you’re harsh and punitive, your child will be afraid to tell you the truth. If you make it safe for them, they will be honest. So be firm on honesty and gentle on your kids. Tell your child how important it is to you that you can always count on each other to tell the truth, even when it is difficult. Let them know that you put more emphasis on their honesty than on the punishment for their dishonest behavior. Yes, you can impose consequences for their wrongdoing, but they need to know there’s a benefit for them in being honest.
Model honesty for your children, not only in your words, but also in your lifestyle. You cannot expect them to tell you the truth if you are not honest with them, even when they ask you an awkward question. Be brief and be age appropriate in your response, but if you lie to them when it’s tough for you to tell the truth, you can’t expect them to blurt out the truth when it’s tough for them.
“I forgive you.”
As parents we are all guilty of saying things we don’t mean, and we do things we should not do. All of us waste time, break promises, forget important things and mess up. None of us fully meets all the expectations placed upon us, including our own.
No one, no matter what age, appreciates being reminded of how they made a poor choice or mistake. Nor does anyone want to be punished endlessly for it, humiliated in front of others for it, or to have it rubbed in their face. As a parent you have to find the balance between having them face up to the consequences of their actions and remembering they have feelings. It is your task, as their parent, to teach them they are lovable despite their imperfections. Forgive them, don’t condemn them.
“I understand your emotions.”
Children may find it hard to relate to their parents, thinking that mom or dad cannot understand what they are going through. This is especially prevalent in the teenage years. Let your child know you still understand what it was like at their age. Even if you don’t understand their exact situation, you can still understand the emotions they may be feeling. Model how to articulate or name the feeling by giving them labels. “Mommy had to go to work, you are sad.” By naming feelings it allows young children to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings.
Help them to identify feelings in themselves and others: Talk about feelings they have and those that you see in others. “I hear you laughing, are you happy?” Or “She fell down, how do you think she feels?” Talk about how feelings can be expressed. Lead by example. Talk about your own feelings and how you express those feelings. What do you do when you get mad? How do people know you are happy? Talk about ways that your child can appropriately express their emotions.
“Not everyone will like you.”
Children, especially girls, need to understand how special they are, but that some people will not always appreciate it, and that’s okay. They don’t have to change or try harder to accommodate everyone. If we can get our kids to understand this, it’ll save them a lot of heartbreak and people-pleasing in their life. Doesn’t matter how nice, pretty, or perfect we try to be, sometimes we just won’t be liked by everyone. And it’s not personal. You won’t like everyone and they won’t like you. That’s normal and that’s healthy.
“This is your responsibility.”
Personal accountability is part of growing up. It take guts to own up and take responsibility when you mess up. Even as adults we still struggle with it. When your child makes a decision — whether wise or not — dealing with the fallout of the decision goes along with it. When parents make their children responsible for their decisions and actions, the result is effective lesson learning. Your children will quickly learn which actions have a positive or a negative result. These experiences help teach responsible behavior and guide them long into the future. Making your children responsible communicates to them that you believe in their abilities to do what they need to do. Without responsibility, children never learn to lead their own lives effectively.
“I’m giving you a second chance.”
Yesterday your child was rough with his toys. Today, you may say, “Here’s the toy I took when you were rough yesterday. You can try again today. Remember the rules about how we treat our toys.” Second chances are great, and your children need them. Even if your child ignores the rules or your warnings one day, give him the opportunity to prove he can do better the next morning. You’re showing him you believe he can do better. This creates trust.
“You have what it takes to succeed.”
The concept of success being a direct result of effort and persistence starts early. Healthy self-esteem is your child’s protective armor against the challenges of the world. Teach your children to know their strengths and weaknesses and to feel good about themselves. In parenting this way, your children will have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures.
Encourage your children through your belief in them. Celebrate their efforts and achievements and support them when they fail. Teach them that failure is a form of success, as it will be through their failures that they will pave their path to living a happy and fulfilling life.
“Let your voice be heard, but in the right way.”
The power of words can heal, harm, uplift, and inspire. Parent your children to say what needs to be said but to do it in such a way that it is tactful, considerate, kind, and never with anger. Let them know that just because they have a voice doesn’t mean it should be used to argue or voice every thought they may have. Teach them to choose wisely and to think before they speak.
Another way to help your children voice their opinions appropriately is to have your children participate in family meetings about decisions (such as what type of pet to get or what chores each person should do) and allow for healthy debate. Make sure that each child has a chance to speak and be heard. When children know their opinions count, they are more likely to talk out and feel comfortable speaking up for themselves.
“I need you to do an extra step.”
Sometimes, with little kids, “I’m sorry” becomes their default response. In this case, it’s okay to ask your child to do an extra step such as saying, “Thanks for saying you’re sorry. Can you explain why you’re sorry, too?” They need to think about why what they did warrants an apology. Saying you’re sorry for hurting someone’s feelings is important, but what really helps healing is to acknowledge why they are sorry. Teach your children that their actions impact others. Taking that extra step lets others know your child really means it.
“I trust you.”
“Do you want to watch your sister for a couple of minutes while I wash dishes?” If you give an older sibling responsibility when you’re nearby to supervise, it will go a long way to build confidence and establish a trusting relationship. She’ll feel competent and trusted by you and in turn will be more likely to be open about things going on in her life as she grows.
They say actions speak louder than words. Sometimes, the absence of words speaks volumes, too. It is incredibly important to listen to your children so they know that you are interested in what they have to say. Through listening, you learn about who your child is on the inside. It builds relational interaction and connects you to a child’s inner world by promoting a sense of value in your child.
Being heard is a huge statement of your children’s worth. How can you know your children and be close to them if you never listen to them objectively? If you argue, you are likely not listening. They are different from you, so instead of telling them what to do all the time, listen to them first, hear their thoughts and then provide direction, asking for their opinions and input. This helps them to learn to problem solve, brainstorm, and make their own good decisions.
Like everything else in life, it is important to know how and when to say these words. We also have to remember to say them, instead of just believing the child knows it already. These sayings are just suggestions, but they can help your children understand exactly what you are thinking and feeling, help them face challenges, and improve your relationship with them.