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5 encouraging phrases that will make kids smile

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Mother holding young son looking into eachother' || chr(39) || 's eyes and smiling.

Everyone needs a little encouragement, and kids are especially needy for positive words in the first weeks of the school year. Early wake-up times, confining schedules and packed days wear out parents, yes, but kids, too. You don’t need to flatter them endlessly to lift their wish-it-was-still-summer spirits; a few well-chosen words can go the distance. In celebration of National Day of Encouragement, here are five phrases that will lift and encourage your kids:

1. “I noticed …”

Straight-up compliments delivered to children can be tricky to navigate. That’s why Holly Thurgood, a Lehi mother of seven and Love and Logic facilitator sticks with phrases that begin with “I noticed.” For instance, when you tell your 10 year-old daughter that her hair is beautiful, she may feel pressure to make sure her hair always looks great and even unintentionally link her hair with her self-worth. Bypass that confusion with a simple, “I noticed you did something new with your hair.” Or, when she is kind to her younger brother, try “I noticed you were extra patient with him” instead of “You are always so nice to your brother.”

“When you use ‘I noticed’ they feel that they are being recognized but there is not an underlying expectation like there is with a compliment,” Thurgood says.

2. “You’re on the right track.”

There is a whole body of research suggesting that praising effort is more important than accomplishment, especially in children. If a child is struggling with a school subject, don’t toss out a generic, “You’re so smart, you’ll figure it out. Instead, let them know their progress and hard work is important by using encouraging phrases like “You’re on the right track,” “That’s coming along nicely” or “I really like the work you’re putting into this.”

“When you use ‘I noticed’ they feel that they are being recognized but there is not an underlying expectation like there is with a compliment.” —Holly Thurgood, Love and Logic facilitator

3. “What are you going to do about it?”

The phrase, “What are you going to do about it” may not seem like a positive statement on its face, but Thurgood says that employed the Love and Logic way it can be high praise. Here’s how it works: Your 8 year old comes home from school without his lunch bag —again — and insists that someone at school stole it. Rather than rolling your eyes and launching into a lecture about keeping track of his stuff, stick with an empathetic “Oh man, what a bummer,” and then ask: “What are you going to do about it?”

“This is a lot less words than maybe is your natural tendency but it helps kids feel supported and empowered to solve their own problems,” Thurgood says. Other variations on this theme: “That’s a tough one, but you’ll figure it out,” “Let me know how I can help,” and “What do you think about it?”

4. “Thank you.”

Adults aren’t the only ones who appreciate a pat on a back and a “thank you.” This simple phrase is music to kids’ ears, too. Try it the next time your toddler listens the first time you ask, when your grade-schooler does his afterschool chores with a cheerful attitude and when your teenager makes a snack for a younger sibling.

5. “I trust you.”

Let your older kids and teens know you trust them to make the right choices. Next time they are faced with a difficult decision, try “I trust your judgment” or “I trust you’ll make the right decision.” And then leave them to it. It’s scarier than running through a pro-con list with them, but simply verbalizing that you trust them may be the only push they need in the right direction.

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