One most powerful skills a parent possesses is the ability to encourage and uplift children in unique, personal ways. A parent’s words can have a profound impact on a child’s self-esteem and personal growth. What they say can stick with kids for the rest of their lives.
No pressure, right?
Whether a family motto, an inside joke between a dad and his kids, or a simple, comforting mantra that’s become a part of a daily routine, encouraging phrases can serve as a powerful antidote to a child’s self-doubt and hesitation. They can build resilience and self-confidence. And they can remind kids of one fixed point that exists in their tumultuous lives: their family. Most importantly, they’re reminders of support, love, and inspiration.
So what are some words of encouragement that parents regularly say to their kids? We asked 15 men to explain the phrases they use on a regular basis to reinforce perseverance, self-worth, and the spirit of being a kid. Each contribution sheds light on the parent’s philosophies and what they’ve learned from their experiences raising children.
1. “Did You See What Just Happened?”
“I use this phrase to emphasize that effort matters. For example, in the context of teaching my son to read, if my child is struggling and he’s getting stuck over and over again and finally gets something, I say, ‘Did you see what just happened?’ Initially he’d say, ‘No’ or ‘I got it right?’ And I’ll tell him that he tried, and tried again, and stuck with it until he did get it right. That effort is something to be celebrated. Any time he demonstrates persistence or perseverance and begins building the skill himself, it’s my go-to question. It’s been a huge source of encouragement for my son, and has helped him build his own ability to reflect and appreciate the effort over the outcome.” - Spencer, 33, Texas
2. “You Can Do Amazing Things, And I Believe In You.”
“I want my kids to know that I have unwavering faith in their abilities and that they have the potential to achieve incredible things. When I say these words to them, I see a noticeable shift in their demeanor. Their eyes light up, and a sense of confidence washes over them. They begin to believe in themselves and their capabilities. This phrase serves as a constant reminder that they are capable of overcoming challenges and turning their dreams into reality. Moreover, this phrase strengthens our bond as a family. My kids know that they can always come to me, share their hopes and fears, and always receive support and encouragement.” - Rico, 30, London, UK
3. “Make Them Notice You.”
“My son is a talented athlete but has been challenged in several areas lately, mostly because of injury. He's also been overlooked in school to a certain extent because he recently switched from private to public school. My go-to phrase for him now is, ‘Make them notice you.’ On the ball field, it means being so good that they can't help but give you higher-priority assignments. And in the classroom, it means my grades make me stand out — you can't put me in another group because I deserve to be where I am.” - David, 54, Georgia
4. “What Do We Do?”
“I ask this question when [my daughter] comes up short in something she’s doing. Her answer is always, ‘We get better.’ The ‘we’ is important, because I want her to know that we can get through anything. The phrase helps her stay positive by letting her know that it isn’t the end of the world, it's just a stepping stone to reach new heights. Whether it’s with school or her sports it reinforces that there are always ways to improve. And it helps our relationship because she knows I have her back no matter what. The consistency shows that she can always rely on me. It reminds us both that we are a team by bringing us closer to the goal, and closer together.” - Terrell, 41, California
“When I have left this earth, I want my voice to be in my kids’ memories, encouraging them by saying ‘I choose you’ and ‘I am proud of you’.”
5. “Sweet Dreams Like Spoon. Be Who You Are. Focus On Your Dreams And Go.”
“This is one mantra that I’ve stitched together from three different books that I’ve read to my kids as bedtime stories. ‘Sweet dreams like spoon’ comes from the book Spoon. It’s a story about a spoon who is jealous of the other utensils, but without realizing they are all actually jealous of him. It reminds the kids to remember to appreciate what they have.
‘Be who you are’ is from the book with the same name, and reminds our children to embrace the differences that make them unique.
And ‘focus on your dreams and go’ comes from the book, Hip and Hop: You Can Do Anything, which follows a bird’s (Hop) struggles while trying to learn how to ride a bike, and his hippo friend (Hip) reminding him that he can do anything he puts his mind to. My kids have even started to add their own twists on the end of the phrase, like, ‘Be mindful and be thankful for your family’. It’s been such a joy to hear what they are currently focused on as they evolve.” - Francis, 41, California
6. “I Choose You. I Am Proud Of You.”
“I have built a tradition with my kids where I whisper a secret to each one as they go to bed. I started when they were very young, and years later my 10 and 16-year-old still come and get their secrets before they go to sleep. While I can’t reveal everything I say — after all, they are secrets — I finish the phrase similarly for each of them. For my daughter I end with, ‘If all the girls in the world were lined up and I got to choose one to be my daughter, I would always choose you.’ For my son I finish with, ‘No matter if today was your best day or your worst day, I will always be proud of you.’ No matter how tired I am or how sleepy they are, I do this every night. When I have left this earth, I want my voice to be in my kids’ memories, encouraging them by saying ‘I choose you’ and ‘I am proud of you’.” - Steve, 53, Georgia
7. “Who Are You? What Are You?”
“I would say that every day when I dropped my kids — boys and girls — at school. They would respond back with, ‘I’m big! I’m strong! I can do it!’ I wanted to plant the seed of self-confidence as many times as I could, in hopes that they might repeat it to themselves as many times as they needed. Will it help? I don’t know. But it sure as heck can’t hurt, especially with all the negative thoughts that are wasted today. Kids spend so much time today with other stuff, whether it’s being on their phones watching and reading garbage that makes them laugh, but doesn’t give them the sense of strength, or integrity, or honor. My goal is to give my kids positive thoughts to reflect on as they face a different world than I did growing up.” - Len, 63, Texas
8. “When You Win, We All Win.”
“I have two teenage sons, one pre-teen, two elementary schoolers, and three toddlers. So, this phrase is a big one in our house. We are a unit in this family and all the unique little parts make the big machine work smoothly. When my four-year-old daughter learned to tie her shoe it was like our team won the Super Bowl. The older kids realized they’d no longer have to help her, and the other kids saw how proud we were and wanted to do well with their own challenges. Our family takes pride in encouragement and kindness. We want to send our kids out into the universe to make a positive impact. As a father, I try to set that standard.” - Robert, 37, Washington, D.C.
“We want to send our kids out into the universe to make a positive impact. As a father, I try to set that standard.”
9. “That’s Good Practice.”
“My favorite phrase to tell my 4-year-old son is, ‘That's good practice.’ If he falls while running, that's okay. It's good practice. If he's unhappy with how a drawing turned out, that's okay, too—it's good practice. When he makes or does something amazing, I follow up with, ‘Wow! Your practice has really paid off. I love it.’ I want to encourage him to keep practicing and learning, so when I see him putting in good effort, I try to encourage it. He's taken it to heart. He's been having a hard time learning his letters, but he enjoys practicing, knowing it will pay off just like everything else.” - Shane, 34, Cancun, Mexico
10. “What Would Dad Do?”
“I grew up in a very problem-solving, solution-oriented household. So, when my kids started showing signs of self-doubt, possibly because of social media pressures and school trends, I knew they needed a mantra to ground them and provide perspective. I’ve found that this phrase prompts them to think critically and make decisions that are true to their values, not just what might be trendy or popular. It’s strengthened my bond with my children because they know they can always lean on my experiences and perspective when they're in doubt. I believe it's helped them see me not just as their father but also as a guide, a sounding board for their worries, and someone who's navigated these tricky situations before.” - Carl, 39, Wales, UK
11.“Be Great On Purpose.”
“You don't have to be great to start, however you do have to start to be great. That’s where this phrase comes from. It helps my kids by keeping them motivated to give their best at all times, in all situations. It's not telling them they are the greatest, but rather to show up as the best versions of themselves in any situation. Sometimes in life we fail or fall short, and that's ok as long as you are being the greatest version of yourself. When my kids face hardships, ‘B.G.O.P.’ is a great way to remind themselves that even if they are not the best, they still need to show up and give their all, which will give them a chance to grow.” - Vantonio, 43, Texas
12. “I Am Thankful For You.”
“I am the parent of six children, including three adopted from foster care, and have been a foster parent to over 60 children. As a parent, I understand that what I say to my children is detrimental to their development. Each day, I try to find something positive to say to each child, and to thank them for something they did throughout the day. Whether it is praise for unloading the dishwasher, or how their hair looked, I understand that my children crave a kind word from me. As a former high school teacher, the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ have been a large part of my vocabulary. I tried to model them for my students, just as I do my kids. ‘Thank you’ reminds kids that what they are doing is recognized, is appreciated, and does matter. And I think a parent needs to find something to thank their child for each day.” - John, 54, Georgia
13. "Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, But They Were Laying Bricks Every Hour."
“In our fast-paced, immediate gratification-seeking society, I believe it's essential to teach my children the value of patience, consistent effort, and long-term vision. This phrase does just that. It emphasizes that grand accomplishments take time and persistent effort. Things that truly matter often don't come easily or quickly. When they're struggling with a challenging school project or practicing a new skill, this phrase serves as a reminder to keep going, to put in the work consistently, even when the results are not immediately visible. It also opens the door for conversations about their goals, their progress, and their challenges. I say it to let them know that I believe in their capacity to achieve significant things over time and that I'm there to support their journey, brick by brick.” - Milosz, 38, London, UK
14. “You’re Capable Of Great Things.”
“This phrase instills confidence and self-belief in my children. By reminding them of their capabilities, I aim to empower them to tackle challenges and pursue their goals with determination. This phrase emphasizes that their potential knows no bounds and encourages them to dream big. This phrase also strengthens my relationship with my kids. It creates a supportive and trusting environment where they feel valued and validated. It builds a foundation of mutual respect and empowers them to overcome obstacles while knowing they have a reliable source of encouragement, and that I’ll always be in their corner.” - Dillon, 33, California
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