As parents, we want to raise good kids — ones who are curious, confident, empathetic, resilient and respectful.
What we say to (or in front of) our children, the way we say it and the behavior we model help shape the people they’ll become.
We asked experts to share some of the most important phrases we can teach our kids from a young age. Many of them are simple yet make a “surprisingly big impact on children’s abilities to thrive,” said educational psychologist Michele Borba, author of “Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.”
1. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”
Little kids love asking questions — sometimes nonstop from the moment they open their eyes in the morning to the time their head hits the pillow at night. All that curiosity is great, but it can also be exhausting for parents and caregivers.
“Sometimes we inadvertently deflect our children’s curiosity because it can be overwhelming,” psychotherapist Mercedes Samudio, author of “Shame-Proof Parenting,” told HuffPost. “But teaching our children that there is nothing wrong with being curious and even teaching them how to seek out answers from others can be a helpful trait to cultivate in children from a young age.”
Encouraging their inquisitiveness and helping them feel confident enough to speak up when they’re unsure about something will serve them well for years to come.
2. “I got this!”
We want our kids to adopt a “growth mindset,” a term coined by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, which describes the belief that talent can be developed with hard work, determination and help from others. Those with a fixed mindset, however, believe their intelligence and skills are innate and therefore unlikely to be improved upon.
“When kids (or adults) are in a fixed mindset, difficulty makes them feel inadequate — their fixed ability feels deficient — and their confidence becomes shaky,” Dweck told Stanford News. “But when they are in a growth mindset, difficulty is a natural part of learning, so they are more likely to take it in stride and find new strategies that work better.”
Borba recommends encouraging your child to use phrases like “I got this” or “I can do this” to bolster their belief in themselves when challenges arise.
“Our children must develop growth mindsets — a sense of personal efficacy or agency — especially in today’s uncertain world,” she said. “Resilient children are tenacious — they don’t stop! And they don’t wait to be rescued.”
3. “Hi, my name is X. What’s yours?”
Between schools being closed and many activities and events being canceled, the coronavirus pandemic limited kids’ opportunities to socialize with their peers. Now that things are opening up again, we can encourage kids to get back out there and introduce themselves to new people and, hey, maybe even make a new friend.
“Two years of physical distancing has caused a lot of children to be socially anxious,” she said. “They haven’t exercised their social skills — and they’re easy to learn if we model them.”
4. “It’s OK to make mistakes. Just be honest about it.”
Making mistakes is an inevitable part of life. When we teach our kids this, we send a message that messing up is only human. It’s how we handle those blunders that matters.
“Honesty is a trait many parents want to cultivate in their children, and the best way to do that is to make sure that it’s OK to make mistakes in your family,” Samudio said. “From a young age, we can teach children that the best way to develop honesty is to be supported through mistakes — which moves children away from lying to get out of trouble, because mistakes don’t bring punitive responses.”
5. “Thank you.”
Gratitude is a learned behavior. As parents, it’s our duty to help instill in our children the importance of being thankful for what we have — and expressing it. Research has shown that practicing gratitude is strongly and consistently linked with greater happiness, as well as better health and relationships.
Saying thank you often increases gratitude — “a known and simple happiness booster,” Borba said.
You might model this to your child by expressing to them how grateful you are for their thoughtful or helpful acts, said Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions.
“Be specific about how they made a difference for you: ‘Thank you for playing with the dog while I had my conference call. I really appreciate how you kept him occupied so I could concentrate on the meeting.’” she previously told HuffPost. “Being the recipient of gratitude will encourage your kids to want to pass it on.”
Let them also see you share your appreciation for others in your day-to-day life.
“From the cashier at the grocery store, to the dry cleaner to their teachers,” said McCready. “Your kids are watching and listening.”
6. “It’ll be OK.”
Helping our kids learn to stay optimistic through difficult times can put them in a better position to weather life’s challenges.
Language like “It’ll be OK,” “I’ll get through it” and “Things will get better” can be powerful in achieving this.
“Let’s teach kids simple statements to keep hope alive and pessimism down,” Borba said.
According to Aha! Parenting, “Research shows that optimists, who believe they can achieve success, are in fact more able to do so. They are less likely to get depressed, get fewer illnesses, have longer relationships, and live longer.”
Teach your child that they have the power to perceive setbacks any way they choose. When they’re catastrophizing, remind them that many problems are temporary and often within their power to fix — or at least improve.
This is part of a HuffPost Parents series called Enjoy the Ride. Read more here.
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