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The Most Encouraging Words for Kids: 125 Phrases That Actually Work

Inside: Some words of encouragement for kids won’t actually work to motivate and inspire your child. Here are the best research-backed encouraging words for kids.

One weekend afternoon, I was reading on the couch while my 8-year-old had flopped on her belly on the living room rug, head bent over a notebook and a pencil in hand.

Out of nowhere, she picked up her notebook and threw it across the floor. “Ugh!”

I looked up, surprised. “Hey,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

She let her head drop to the rug, her voice muffled. “I’m trying to write this stupid story, and I can’t get it to come out like I see it in my head.”

In my first few years as a parent, that’s the point at which I would have unleashed a barrage of words of encouragement for my child, thinking I was helping.

You can do it.
I believe in you.
Don’t give up!

But after experiencing several moments like that, I realized my attempts at boosting my kids back up weren’t actually helping them overcome discouragement. In fact, my encouraging words sometimes seemed to intensify my kids’ negative feelings.

Then years later during my training as a Certified Parent Educator, it finally made sense. Because I learned why words of encouragement for kids aren’t the best solution for moments when your child is feeling discouraged or frustrated.

Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free cheat sheet of the 125 most encouraging words for kids, plus a quick reference of the research-backed M-A-P technique for motivating and inspiring your child.

Think back to the last time you felt discouraged and you confided in a friend or your partner.

Now imagine that your loved one said nothing to acknowledge your disappointment. Instead, they busted out a stream of positive platitudes like, “It’ll all work out!” or “You can do it!” You’d probably feel frustrated. You’d feel unheard and unseen.

And you certainly wouldn’t feel ready to move past that discouragement so that you could learn from the situation and come up with a solution.

When I’ve experienced those moments in the past, they’ve brought to mind this Parks and Recreation episode where the very-pregnant Ann joins a Whine and Cheese Club meeting to share her frustrations, then Larry responds:

Note to self: Don’t be like Larry.

As parents, we hate seeing our kids frustrated and discouraged, so we’re anxious to push past those negative feelings and jump right to words of encouragement or telling our child how to fix the problem.

But research shows that when someone is experiencing emotional upset, what they need first and foremost is to feel validated.1Ohio State University. (2020, December 14). The power of validation in helping people stay positive: Supporting someone’s negative emotions can help foster a positive outlook. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 6, 2021 from

Because until a child feels heard and seen, they can’t move forward into solving the problem or learning from the experience. In fact, without validation, their mood is likely to get worse.2Ohio State University. (2020, December 14). The power of validation in helping people stay positive: Supporting someone’s negative emotions can help foster a positive outlook. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 6, 2021 from

In other words, without that essential first step of validating your child’s feelings, you could shower them in all the words of encouragement for kids known to humankind, and all those well-intentioned words would just go in one ear and out the other.

When your child experiences moments of discouragement, it’s like they’re lost in a labyrinth and can’t find their way out. Everywhere they look, they see tall hedges pressing in on them – they’re overwhelmed by their scary negative feelings and lacking the life experience or brain maturity to know those feelings will pass.

The good news? As a parent, you can help your child get un-stuck and find their way out of that maze so they can learn and grow from the experience. All you need to do is give them a map.

So when you find yourself in those moments, remember the three steps of the research-backed M-A-P technique below to jog your memory about how to react and help your child move forward.

Making this shift in regards to encouraging words for kids might take some practice. Nobody expects perfection, so please be kind to yourself!

Here’s the deal: The simple fact that you’re reading this post tells me that you care deeply about the child or children in your life, and you want to do better. Stopping to reflect on how you’re encouraging them and whether you could do an even better job is no small thing.

This post is chock full of practical take-aways, but you don’t have to use them all. Even if all you do is use one phrase from inside this post, you’re moving in the right direction. In the words of James Clear, bestselling author of Atomic Habits:†

“If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”

This site is reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

This is the first and most important step of the M-A-P technique, and it can take anywhere from less than a minute to 10 minutes – or more, depending on how upset your child is.

How to do it: Pretend you’re a mirror and reflect back what your child is experiencing, by naming the emotion they seem to be experiencing.

In the book The Whole-Brain Child, neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Siegel and psychotherapist Dr. Tina Payne Bryson call this technique “Name It to Tame It”, which means naming your child’s fears or emotions so that they can tame them. Here’s why it works:

“Research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere…Sometimes parents avoid talking about upsetting experiences, thinking that doing so will reinforce their children’s pain or make things worse. Actually, telling the story is often exactly what children need, both to make sense of the event and to move on to a place where they can feel better about what happened…The drive to understand why things happen to us is so strong that the brain will continue to try making sense of an experience until it succeeds. As parents, we can help this process along through storytelling.”

For example, you might say one of the mirroring statements below and use your tone of voice5Markel, N. N., Bein, M. F., & Phillis, J. A. (1973). The Relationship Between Words and Tone-of-Voice. Language and Speech, 16(1), 15–21. , facial expressions6Krumhuber, E., Manstead, A. S. R., Cosker, D., Marshall, D., Rosin, P. L., & Kappas, A. (2007). Facial dynamics as indicators of trustworthiness and cooperative behavior. Emotion, 7(4), 730–735. , and body language7Van den Stock, J., Righart, R., & de Gelder, B. (2007). Body expressions influence recognition of emotions in the face and voice. Emotion, 7(3), 487–494. to mirror how your child is feeling and to align with your own words. Much of human communication is non-verbal, so by aligning your words and the non-verbal cues you’re sending, you’ll communicate in a meaningful way that you really do get how your child is feeling.

Here are a few mirroring statements that can work well:

Sometimes, a mirroring statement is enough to deflate the ballooning negative emotion. But other times, your child may need more comfort. In those situations, you could open your arms to offer a hug, rub their back or shoulder, or invite them to sit with you then cuddle in silence while breathing deeply.

If they still seem overwhelmed by their negative emotions, take 5 or 10 minutes to connect together. You could go on a quick walk around the block, kick off an impromptu dance party, or read together. This isn’t always necessary, but just a few minutes can help your child clear their head so they can find their way out of that scary maze.

Related: Family Connection Cards: Nurture a Relationship That Will Last {Printable}

Why this step is important: Studies have shown that when you consistently validate your child’s feelings and coach them through their emotions in this way, they tend to get along better with their friends, have fewer behavior problems, and are more resilient:8Gottman, J., & Goleman, D. (1997). Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child. Simon & Schuster.

“The kids who are Emotion-Coached still get sad, angry, or scared under difficult circumstances, but they are better able to soothe themselves, bounce back from distress, and carry on with productive activities. In other words, they are more emotionally intelligent.”

After you get a sense that your child feels heard and understood and their negative emotions have started to dissipate, you can proceed to the next step.

How to do it: Ask a question to engage your child’s problem-solving skills so they can move forward in a positive way.

In the book Positive Discipline, positive parenting expert Dr. Jane Nelsen calls this a curiosity question:

“Too often adults tell children what happened or what is wrong, what caused it to happen, how the child should feel about it, what the child should learn from it, and what the child should do about it. It is much more respectful, encouraging, and inviting of skill development when we ask what happened or what is wrong, what the child thinks caused it, how she feels about it, what she has learned, what ideas she has to solve the problem, or how she can use in the future what she has learned. This is the true meaning of education, which comes from the Latin word educare, which means ‘to draw forth.’ Too often adults try to stuff in instead of draw forth, and then wonder why children don’t learn.”

When asking a question at this stage, try to adopt the tone of a curious friend because you wouldn’t want to come across as blaming your child or as judgmental. Here are a few curiosity questions that can help:

Why this step is important: Nurturing your child’s problem-solving skills is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Kids who lack problem-solving skills may be at a higher risk for depression and suicide.11Becker-Weidman, E.G., Jacobs, R.H., Reinecke, M.A., Silva, S.G., & March, J.S. (2010). Social problem-solving among adolescents treated for depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48(1), 11-18. On the other hand, when you teach children problem-solving skills, research shows that kids are less likely to have behavioral issues, plus they get better at controlling their own impulsive behavior.12Shure, M.B., & Spivack, G. (1980). Interpersonal problem solving as a mediator of behavioral adjustment in preschool and kindergarten children. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 1, 29-44. 13Shure, M.B., & Spivack, G. (1982). Interpersonal problem-solving in young children: A cognitive approach to prevention. American Journal of Community Psychology, 10, 341-356.

Teaching children problem-solving skills is such a powerful intervention that one of the researchers behind those studies even went on to develop a program called I Can Problem Solve. When kids learn problem-solving skills through this classroom-based training program, studies show those kids benefit from improved academic achievement, have an easier time making friends and getting along with others, experience greater resilience in coping with frustration, and show decreased physical, verbal, and relational aggression.14I Can Problem Solve. (n.d.) ICPS Outcomes.

After your child articulates a lesson learned or brainstorms a potential solution, that’s the best time for this final step: Share positive words of encouragement for kids that will prop them up.

Remember that the Mirror and Ask steps are essential so that your child will be capable of actually hearing and absorbing your words of encouragement. I used to jump straight to this final step with my kids and skip the previous two steps, and that never worked.

By leaving words of encouragement for kids as the last step, your child will feel they earned and deserve that encouragement, rather than feel like you’re dishing out empty praise.

How to do it: In the next section, you’ll find the best 125 words of encouragement for kids, plus you can get a free printable of the whole list. But the specific words you use to encourage your child will depend on the situation, so here are a few guidelines to help you come up with your own encouraging phrases for kids:

A handy trick for making sure you stick to specifics and praise your child’s actions is to start off with “You…” then complete the sentence by describing what your child did.

Why this step is important: Rewards shape human behavior, and studies show that our brains respond to social approval like praise in the same way they respond to monetary rewards.21Bhanji, J. P., & Delgado, M. R. (2014). The social brain and reward: social information processing in the human striatum. Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science, 5(1), 61–73. Verbal praise and supportive gestures like high-fives make us feel good, plus they can encourage children to try again after a mistake or failure.22Morris, B. J., & Zentall, S. R. (2014). High fives motivate: the effects of gestural and ambiguous verbal praise on motivation. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 928.

When you praise a child’s actions or choices, you can motivate them to stick with a challenging task.23Henderlong, J., & Lepper, M. R. (2002). The effects of praise on children’s intrinsic motivation: A review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 774–795. This is even true for toddlers,24Kelley, S. A., Brownell, C. A., & Campbell, S. B. (2000). Mastery motivation and self-evaluative affect in toddlers: longitudinal relations with maternal behavior. Child development, 71(4), 1061–1071. and that boost in motivation can stick with kids several years later.25Gunderson, E. A., Gripshover, S. J., Romero, C., Dweck, C. S., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine, S. C. (2013). Parent praise to 1- to 3-year-olds predicts children’s motivational frameworks 5 years later. Child development, 84(5), 1526–1541. 26Gunderson, E. A., Sorhagen, N. S., Gripshover, S. J., Dweck, C. S., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Levine, S. C. (2018). Parent praise to toddlers predicts fourth grade academic achievement via children’s incremental mindsets. Developmental psychology, 54(3), 397–409.

Research also shows that words of encouragement can help develop your child’s social skills, such as encouraging them to help others in the future.27Dahl, A., Satlof-Bedrick, E. S., Hammond, S. I., Drummond, J. K., Waugh, W. E., & Brownell, C. A. (2017). Explicit scaffolding increases simple helping in younger infants. Developmental psychology, 53(3), 407–416. 28Bryan, C.J., Master, A., & Walton, G.M. (2014), “Helping” Versus “Being a Helper”: Invoking the Self to Increase Helping in Young Children. Child Development, 85(5), 1836-1842.

Get your free printable list of the most powerful words of encouragement for kids here. You can keep this list on your nightstand, tuck it in your purse or wallet, or leave it on the driver’s seat of your car as a handy reminder for the moments when your child feels discouraged. These phrases work for a wide range of ages from young children to teenagers, but you know your child best, so choose the phrases you think will most encourage your child.

The printable also includes a refresher of the 3-step M-A-P technique from earlier in this post so that your words of encouragement for kids will actually work. Because until you validate your child’s feelings and engage their problem-solving skills, sharing encouraging words would be a bit like lobbing a half-deflated ball towards them, then watching as your words fall flat without even reaching your child.

Quick tip: For some of these encouraging phrases, you can make an even more positive impact by first starting with one sentence to acknowledge your child’s actions, choices, or effort, starting with the word “You…”29Henderlong, J., & Lepper, M. R. (2002). The effects of praise on children’s intrinsic motivation: A review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 128(5), 774–795. 30Cimpian, A., Arce, H. M., Markman, E. M., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Subtle linguistic cues affect children’s motivation. Psychological science, 18(4), 314–316. For example, “You didn’t know how to draw a dog, then you came up with a plan to watch a video tutorial.” When you start with that before sharing words of encouragement for kids, you help them see the whole story of their own struggle and how they moved forward from it.

Related: How to Make Your Child Feel Loved: 75 Positive Words for Kids {Printable}

These words of encouragement for kids work best when shared after your child has already tackled the challenge they ran into and come up with a solution. For an extra dose of encouragement, deliver these positive messages along with a high-five or fist bump.

Note: Because your child already cleared the hurdle, it might make sense to skip the Mirror and Ask steps of the M-A-P technique and just deliver these positive phrases.

This next set of phrases encourages your child to assess their own accomplishment and fosters intrinsic motivation, which in turn boosts your child’s self-confidence. That’s important because research shows kids who practice self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, feel more confident about what they can do, and take more ownership of their work.31Rolheiser, C., & Ross, J. A. (1998). Student Self-Evaluation: What Research Says and What Practice Shows. In R. D. Small, & A. Thomas (Eds.), Plain Talk about K.I.D.S. (Kids Inclined Toward Difficulty in School): A Summit on Learning Disorders, Transforming Crisis Into Success (pp. 43-57). Center for Development and Learning: Covington, LA.

These encouraging words for kids are best for when your child is in the middle of a challenging moment. Use these positive phrases to avoid the negative effects of empty praise. Skip the inspirational quotes from famous people your child has never heard of – and share these encouraging phrases straight from your heart instead.

For this next set of phrases, think of a small win or improvement you can point out first, then share the words of encouragement. Research shows that pointing out someone’s progress on small things can help motivate them to keep going after their big dreams.33Amabile, T. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Harvard Business Review Press.

Some kids feel anxiety about tests and big projects at school like presentations or papers. If you’re wondering what to say to your child before a test, keep these encouraging words in your back pocket for those moments to prop your child up. When your child knows you’re in their corner, that makes an enormous difference.

Sometimes, discouragement will come from something that happened to your child during their day such as something that occurred while at school, playing with friends in the neighborhood, or interacting with siblings. These encouraging phrases for kids can help your child turn a bad day around:

If your child’s struggle relates to doing something helpful, such as resisting helping with chores or a sibling scuffle over taking turns with a toy, these phrases can shift their internal dialogue and encourage them to make the helpful choice in the future.

Quick tip: When you’re trying to encourage helpful behavior, you’ll make the most impact when you draw the connection to who your child is, like being a helper or being a kind person. Research shows that when you praise kids for being a helpful person rather than praising them just for helping, kids are much more likely to act generously in the future.38Bryan, C.J., Master, A., & Walton, G.M. (2014), “Helping” Versus “Being a Helper”: Invoking the Self to Increase Helping in Young Children. Child Development, 85(5), 1836-1842. Here’s why: Your words shape your child’s self-image, and by seeing themselves as “helpers” for example, they’ll be more likely to behave in a way that lives up to that self-image.

I’ve tried countless parenting techniques to encourage a growth mindset in my kids – some of them total duds.

But I wish I’d created these special mindset posters much earlier because the results have been fast and impressive with my grade-schooler and my preschooler. (Even my toddler repeats the growth mindset mantras they hear from their older siblings!)

Thanks to these mindset posters, my kids have internalized powerful, positive mantras to remind them that hard work and sticking with a problem will help their brains grow – and will help them become the people they want to be. (Check out the science behind these growth mindset posters that makes them so powerful with kids.)

Grab your own set of mindset posters here, pair them with a set of colored pencils, and you’ll unlock your child’s true potential for working hard, not giving up, and learning from their mistakes. A growth mindset is one of the best traits you can nurture in your child!

When your child feels discouraged, use this cheat sheet of the most encouraging words to inspire and motivate them.

Here’s a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet:

If you want to nurture a growth mindset in your child, here are our most popular resources:

What are your go-to encouraging words for kids? Share in a comment below!

I'm a mom of four, a Certified Parent Educator, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. I believe if you want a loving parent-child relationship that will last into the teenage years and beyond, the time for nurturing that kind of relationship is now. The good news? All you need is 10 minutes a day. Start here »

Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.

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