“Stop that right now.”

I feel like I spend 90 percent of my day saying stuff like this to my kids about things they’re basically doing wrong. It’s not that they’re little devils, it’s just that they do lots of things that, well, need correcting.

It’s really not okay for a four-year-old to run with a metal fork in his hand, right? But if I’m not careful, I’m going to miss my opportunity to speak life-giving phrases to them as well as the other stuff.

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One of my best friends told me a story about how his dad turned to him the day he moved away to college and said, “Son, I believe in you.” These were powerful, meaningful words to him. I love this story.

After this same friend told me his story, he turned to me and asked me what phrases I was speaking to my children. When he asked me that, it was as if a new set of eyes opened up in me.

What are my kids hearing every day? What phrases am I speaking to them over and over and instilling into their souls? Is it all about behavior modification or am I speaking deep, meaningful truths to them?

After giving it much thought, these are the 16 phrases I landed on made up of words of encouragement, love, and belief in them. These words will root deeply within them and become part of who they are.

These are the phrases I want my kids to know well:

1 | “I love being your dad.”

More than work. More than my hobbies. More than social activities.

2 | “No matter what you do, I’ll always love you.”

I want my kids to know that I love them unconditionally.

3 | “I love spending time with you.”

I want my kids to know this to their cores.

4 | “I love you.”

My dental hygienist (random?) told me that I shouldn’t let a single day go by without telling each one of my kids that I love them. It’s such a simple but wonderful idea. I want each one of my kids to hear this every single day.

5 | “I can’t wait to see what wonderful things are in store for you.”

A faith-based version of this phrase (that happens to be one of my favorites on this list) is, “I can’t wait to see what God has planned for your life.”

6 | “I’m so proud of you for making that choice.”

When we praise our kids for good choice-making, it motivates them to make similar choices in the future.

7 | “You worked so hard at that!”

Research shows that praising children for their efforts is much better than praising them for “being smart” or for other innate characteristics.

8 | “I love when we ____ together.”

Play chase, or read books, or tell stories, or do science experiments together.

9 | “I think you can figure this out.”

I want to encourage them when they run into something tough.

10 | “Even if you fail at this, I’m still proud of you.”

I want them to know my love and approval of them is unconditional.

11 | “I loved when we went ___ (e.g., to Touch-a-Truck, etc.) together.”

Reflecting over shared memories is one of the great joys in life.

12 | “I believe in you.”

Research shows that when we believe the best of our kids, they respond in very real, tangible ways (like improving their own IQ).

13 | “I think you’re really good at___ (e.g., laughing and enjoying life).”

I want my kids to know their strengths.

14 | “You are great at loving yourself.”

At one point in my life, I struggled with self-loathing. I don’t want this for my kids. I want them to be excellent at loving themselves.

15 | “It was beautiful the way you ___ (e.g., chose your friends).”

I love this phrase because it praises their good choices.

16 | “You’re beautiful/handsome.“

Even though I want to make sure not to praise my children for their innate abilities (because what do they do if they aren’t pretty or smart enough?), I still want my kids to know I think they’re beautiful/handsome. Something within me just tells me they need to hear this.

So, I’m going to be to you what my friend was to me and ask you the pointed question: What phrases are you speaking to your kids right now? What message are they getting from you?

Make the most of your short time with them and speak deep, meaningful phrases to them. It will richly impact them for the rest of their lives.