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These simple words of encouragement for kids can do wonders for self-esteem

Our children mean the world to us, but we don’t always remember to tell them so. Remind your children, at least once a day, just how important they are with precious inspirational quotes — we’ve got some suggestions to help you get started.

A child’s sense of self

“Praise, encouragement and kind words are an essential part of our everyday communication with our children across all ages,” says Dr. Cheryl Rode, director of clinical operations at the San Diego Center for Children. “Children develop their sense of self through their communications with others, especially their parents.”

“Rewards, including praise, are much more effective than punishment in teaching positive behavior,” she continues. “Children learn more quickly when they have specific feedback about what they are doing well.”

More: It’s not my job to make sure my child is always happy

As parents, the things we say to our children become part of who they are. We should always aim to use our word to:

  • Express unconditional love. “Words and gestures of simple affection convey that we value and appreciate our children for who they are (no strings or expectations attached!),” says Dr. Rode.
  • To teach. “Praise is a wonderful teaching tool when it is specific and descriptive and genuine,” explains Dr. Rode. “It is also most impacting when praise is related to the child’s efforts, not just the successes. For example, ‘You worked really hard to finish that assignment on time’ can help kids develop good work habits.”
  • To encourage. “Encouragement is similar to praise and supports a child’s personal sense of competence,” Dr. Rode says. “Encouraging statements might show how the child can handle challenges, ‘All that practice is really helping you get better.'”
  • To show appreciation. “We can also make sure to use words of appreciation frequently each day,” suggests Dr. Rode, “like ‘thank you’ and ‘you are a big help.'”

Praising Guidelines

According to child and family psychotherapist Fran Walfish, praise can be a powerful motivating force if you follow a few guidelines.

  • Be sincere and specific with your praise.
  • Praise kids only for traits they have the power to change.
  • Use descriptive praise that conveys realistic, attainable standards.
  • Be careful about praising kids for achievements that come easily.
  • Be careful about praising kids for doing what they already love to do.
  • Encourage kids to focus on mastering skills — not on comparing themselves to others.
  • Be sensitive to your child’s developmental level.

Try it!

Aim to offer sincere praise every day.

“When your daughter practices for weeks and finally learns to ride a two-wheel bicycle, for example, give her praise for sticking with it,” says Dr. Walfish.

Apply these general praises to specific activities, behaviors and accomplishments:

  1. I appreciate it so much when you…
  2. You were very brave to do that.
  3. You are really improving at…
  4. It’s OK. We all make mistakes.
  5. Thank you for…
  6. You made a good decision.
  7. Being your mom makes me happy.
  8. You worked really hard on that!
  9. You are very good at…
  10. What do you think about…?
  11. You handled that very well.
  12. I forgive you for…
  13. Now you’re getting the hang of it!
  14. You are an excellent helper.
  15. That’s your best effort yet!
  16. You really used your imagination on that project.
  17. Have a terrific day!
  18. I trust you.
  19. I am proud of you for doing your best.
  20. Your efforts are paying off.
  21. You mean so much to me.
  22. That was so kind of you!
  23. You figured it out!
  24. I can tell you’ve been practicing.
  25. You could really help me with this.
  26. You are a good friend to…
  27. Good thinking!
  28. I love you.

But don’t overdo it

It’s obviously important to praise your child whenever they deserve it, but Dr. Rode feels some correction is still necessary as well.

More: When to take your kid to the doctor vs. tough it out at home

“We all like to hear kind words when we try hard,” she says. “Using frequent positive communication helps build a strong parent-child relationship and can actually make discipline more effective. Both praise and correction are necessary to good parenting, but we want to make sure that there is a higher ratio of the former.”

Originally published Feb. 2014. Updated Nov. 2016.

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