“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice,” said author Peggy O’Mara, and subsequently thousands of Pinterest boards.
And it’s true.
The things we say — not only with our mouths, but with our tone, actions, and mannerisms — affect our kids. They’ll hold our words in that deep-down place where all kids do: Down where we keep our sense of worth, our feeling of being “enough,” our fears and doubts and self-love.
There’s a real resistance to the “self-esteem campaigns” I was raised with in the 90s — the “You are a special snowflake” sentiments that, while well-intentioned, are nothing more than a punchline now:
“Attention all whiny, entitled, self-centered Millennials — you’re not a special snowflake, yah hear me?”
Okay, okay. Maybe special is a bad word choice — although, I’ll be honest, my son is pretty darn special to me. Not the most special person in the world, and not more special than any other child, but his specialness is still there; I see it. Instead of using airy, ethereal words to raise up our kids (“you can do ANYTHING!”), maybe we just try kind words. Loving words. True words. Words that strengthen and reassure, not delude. Words our kids can pull out like tools, whether they’re 5 or 55.
With that in mind, here are some loving words and phrases I’d like to say more often — words and phrases that all kids deserve to hear:
- It’s okay to be angry. I can help you calm down.
- It’s okay to be sad. I will sit with you.
- It’s okay to feel disappointed. I’ve felt it, too.
- It’s okay.
- I like who you are.
- You are important to me.
- I’m listening.
- I’m here.
- You don’t have to make me happy.
- You are more than your emotions; they will pass.
- I can handle your emotions, no matter how big they are.
- Yes, I will watch you play.
- Yes, I will join you.
- Yes, I will lay with you.
- You make me smile.
- I believe in you.
- I trust you.
- You can handle this.
- You aren’t perfect, and neither am I.
- But our love is perfect.
- Thank you.
- I’m proud of you.
- I’m happy you’re here.
- It’s okay to make mistakes.
- Take your time.
- You are strong.
- I’m proud to be your mom.
- You are brave.
- I forgive you.
- Cry. Let it out.
- I’ve been thinking about you.
- I missed you today.
- It’s okay to change your mind.
- It’s okay to ask for help.
- I hear you.
- I see you.
- I’m sorry.
- You make my life better.
- You are capable.
- You are worthy.
- You matter.
- I love you, always, just as you are.
There’s a Jewish mystic story about an old Rabbi who taught his disciples to memorize the teachings and place the holy words on their hearts.
“Why on our hearts, and not in them?” one student asked.
“We put the words on our hearts, so that some day when our hearts break they will fall in.”
And so I hope to put these words on my son’s heart, too. So that one day when he questions his worth or feels unsure — when he feels his heavy heart caving in, for all of the reasons a heart might break— my words will fall inside.
Maybe then he’ll remember that he is okay and loved, just as he is. Maybe he’ll hear my words as his own. Maybe he’ll even pass them on.