Affirming your child is key to building their self-esteem, and certain uplifting phrases will stay with them in the dark times making a success of them in adulthood. A lot has been said about the positive and negative effects of words of encouragement for kids. The genial conclusion is that there is a right way to encourage your kids and a way that does more harm than good to their self-esteem. 

The successful tiger mom’s approach 

Amy Chua, Professor of Law at Yale and controversial writer of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is of the opinion that kids, have to earn words of praise from their hard work. Her book on tactics of raising super-successful kids, is not everyone’s cup of tea, as it focuses on a highly controversial parenting model that make Asian American kids the most successful of U.S ethnic groups in regards to math and science. 

Research shows that the advantage the Asian American kids have is not a higher IQ, but on the words, the Chinese mothers use to encourage achievement in their kids.  Traditional Chinese parenting model has been exemplary in raising successful children by focusing on hard work and not innate intelligence. Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown in his lot with this tiger mom, by affirming the books mantra that it is not your kid’s intelligence but instead their hard work and willingness to raise from failure that makes a child successful. 

The above outlines what we should say to encourage our kids when they do well. The best words of encouragement for kids are centered on hard work and discipline, grit and passion. The world’s most successful, Edison, Darwin, Curie, Cezanne or Mozart were not products of mere talent, but painstaking years and years of hard work and dedication. 

So what’s the right way to praise kids? 

Psychologists and Mark Lepper and Jennifer Henderlong Corpus, with over 30 years of research on the effects of praise on kids, have a few guidelines; 

  • Be honest and specific when saying words of encouragement to your kids 
  • Let your words be about achievements that your child can realistically  attain 
  • Do not dish out praise for results that come effortlessly or about things the child already loves to do 
  • Encourage your kids on traits that are in their power to change 
  • Use encouraging words to urge kids to work hard and master skills, not compare them to others’ abilities. 


Five examples of healthy words of encouragement for kids 

You worked it out! That is awesome. 

Psychologists say that using encouraging words that help your child work out the problem out rather than abandon it, helps them learn perseverance and that this will serve them later in life. It also encourages a growth theory of intelligence, which enables kids to be more resilient and eager to learn through failure and challenges. This encouragement allows them too to see through the effects of giving up and its consequences, and that quitting never sorts the problem. 

If you don’t succeed, keep at it and try again. 

Let your words of encouragement for your kid’s foster optimism and encourage the child to be confident and full of motivation. Christine Carter, Ph.D. and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, equates optimism to happiness and says that the aspects are equal. Research shows that ten-year-olds taught optimism, are half less prone to depressive emotions in puberty. 

It is essential to encourage your kids to look at the brighter side of things, and your words of encouragement will comfort and motivate them through frustrating times when they have to learn and master things not easy for them. The more optimistic your kid is, the more successful they are in athletics and class work, will live healthier and longer as they will have better mental and emotional health. 

You must have worked really hard! Great job!  

Encourage your child for their effort, not their intelligence.  Their effort is something they are in control of, and they can apply more focus to it when need be. Encouraging your kid’s smarts fosters a fixed mindset, where they grow up to assume that their brain capacity is not malleable, and their intelligence is inherent and capped.  

This makes them shy away from challenges and overly cautious, looking to do problems that only come quickly to them. Kids do this because they do not want to lose that high appraisal you have through failure. 

By encouraging their efforts, you show them that improvement is possible and indeed nothing is set in stone. 

It’s OK. We all make mistakes 

Use positive words of encouragement that emphasize on effort and courage and not perfection. Continually tooting the achievement drum fosters desperation and frustration on kids, leaving them depressed, anxious and prone to substance abuse later on in life.  

That’s a great idea! 

Encourage your child’s sense of self and be their biggest cheerleader to assist the child to learn problem-solving techniques and be self-confident and assured. These words tells your kids that they have what it takes to see through any scenario they have cooked up, and that it is indeed a worthy idea. Your children will develop their sense of self through the words and actions you communicate, and research shows that kids learn better and faster when there is specific feedback about their efforts. 

Caveat emptor; do not over praise them. Studies show that this could do more harm than good, fuelling narcissism or damaging your child’s self-esteem. If your child becomes dependent on your praise, which they can because it naturally feels right, they will stop doing their best, unless praised. 

Be like an intermittent praise slot machine. This will foster persistence, without any reward in the offing. Do not let your kids become immune to your praise, needing higher and more extravagant doses of it to believe in themselves. 

I love you 

The adverse reaction to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is based on the false idea that Asian style authoritarian parenting excludes love and warmth for the children. But research shows that while strict, Chinese parents enjoy an unequaled sense of love, warmth and closeness with their kids, which their kids carry on through their life. Many successful Asian kids feel very connected to their parents, and this is part of the reason why the Asian parenting model makes such a success of them.  

Express your unconditional love and regard for your kids, through your words and actions. Never let your kids be in doubt of this one fact. Let them know you value and appreciate their presence in your life, with absolutely no strings attached to any other attribute. 


By applying knowledge based on research and studies on how best to use words of encouragement for kids, you rest confident that the positive words you say to them will foster their growth and development and not stymie it. Use healthy positive words on your kids today and see the amazing results on their self esteem.