5 things your kids need to hear you say


Written by Pam Barnhill of Ed Snapshots.

I just knew my daughter was lying to me. What I was hearing was so incredible I couldn’t believe she would even craft such a silly lie and expect me to believe it. Not too mention I was right in the middle of a workout, which always makes me extremely grumpy anyway.

I exploded at her — for lying, for interrupting me, for breaking my concentration on the stupid set of side lunges.

I sent her outside to play, but she tearfully explained as she went out the door. It took me about two minutes to realize I had misunderstood.  I fumed at myself for the rest of the workout, berating myself for flying off the handle about something inconsequential.

As soon as I was finished I sought her out to say I was sorry.

We talk a lot as homeschool moms. We will find ourselves explaining, questioning, making requests, giving commands, admonishing. In the midst of all that chatter, though, there are five things that our kids really need to hear us say.


“I’m sorry.”

Kids need to hear “I’m sorry” for the same reasons everyone else does. We seek forgiveness from each other to heal wounds and restore peace and goodwill.

When we have wronged each other, hard feelings remain – and build over time – unless we ask for forgiveness with repentance and true remorse. It makes no difference when the wronged party is under the age of 18.

Yet kids need to hear parents say they are sorry for another reason. They need us to model repentance. Kids learn, especially in areas of character, by imitating us. When we make a sincere apology for both big and small slights, it not only restores their feelings of self-worth, but also shows them how admit they are wrong and ask for forgiveness sincerely.

“You worked so hard on that!”

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was so smart as a kid, I would be rich too.

Sure, the words built up my self-esteem, but it would only come crashing back down again when I was faced with a task that required some kind of effort on my part. Or my knee-jerk mantra to any task I couldn’t easily do was, “I’m not any good at that.”

I spent years thinking I was horrible at math.

The problem is, we often focus our praise of kids on things totally beyond their control: “You’re so smart” or “Aren’t you pretty” when what we should be praising is their efforts and character.

We should praise that they tried hard or were helpful to their little brother, because those things are totally within their ability to do again. And we want them to do just that.


“Finish the job.”

This is a hard one because it can feel so mean, but this tough love is a huge character builder for our kids.

Whether it is the math page or the basketball season, learning to finish the job when things become difficult or we lose motivation is extremely important.

Like our focus on efforts, teaching kids to stick with a difficult task will build their long-term esteem.

Yes, a child’s discontent with the math page could signal real math struggles, and an unwillingness to play ball anymore could result from issues with others on the team that should not be ignored. As parents we have to be as aware and responsive to these kinds of difficulties as we can.

I find that in many cases, though, the reluctance to finish is just as likely the kid being human, and a little encouragement can get them over the hump to completion.

“I really like the way you _______.” (Fill in the blank with something specific).

I really like the way you used strong verbs in this paragraph. I really like the way you cleaned up your place after lunch. I really like the way you used the dictionary to figure out the word you didn’t know.

Our default praise as parents is “Good job!” It sounds great, but lacks very much substance and has the tendency to be vastly overused in parenting circles.

Specific praise, on the other hand, sends a clear message to the child exactly what they have done well, increases their motivation to repeat those actions, and encourages them to continue to work hard.


“I love you.”

Depending on your personality and parenting style, this may be something you don’t verbalize often.

Sure, you love your kids. Do you tell them?

Kids are developing their ideas about the world and sometimes end up with erroneous ones about how love works.

We love them unconditionally. Yet they worry if that love is lost after they have disappointed us or we have acted angrily. Plus, kids are not always adept at reading social cues, so they need to be frequently, verbally reminded that we do love them, all the time.

Our goal should be to slow down and make these five things a regular part of our vocabulary — to build character, esteem, and create healthy relationships with our kids.

What things do you feel are important to say to your children?

About Pam Barnhill

Pam Barnhill is the author of the brand new book, Better Together: Strengthen Your Family, Simplify Your Homeschool, and Savor the Subjects That Matter Most.

Pam is the host of three popular homeschooling podcasts -- The Homeschool Snapshots Podcast, Your Morning Basket, and The Homeschool Solutions Show. She lives in the Deep South with her husband, three (mostly) awesome kids, and a passel of family dogs.


  1. I’d add a corollary to “finish the job” — because sometimes a tapped-out kid can’t dampen his or her emotional state to solve anything. I say “I know it can be frustrating when this happens. Let’s see if there is a way to backtrack and figure out what went wrong.” Sometimes they can go it alone from there.
    Melissa D’s latest post: XO, Vera: 300K Subscribers = a lot of dedicated emails!

  2. That’s a great idea Melissa D. Yes, completely tapped-out kids mostly just need to take a break before moving on.
    Pam’s latest post: Dealing With the Homeschool Meltdown

  3. As a middle school teacher for many years, I can say that requiring students to finish the job is really important. You can offer scaffolding as necessary to help work through obstacles…but that is how we teach them perseverance and “stick-to-it-tiveness” as well as build self esteem by setting appropriately high expectations and then ensuring they reach them. As a result, the kiddos feel capable and know that we believe in their ability to accomplish the goal. It can be a bit tricky to navigate but it is so, so important.

    Pam, I absolutely love the advice in this post. I am saving it to read again and again. Very important advice here. Thank you for reminding me!!

  4. Love the reminders here. I needed the reminder of “finish the job” because that’s the one I model most poorly to them. Either I leave things half finished or I allow them to and I add their work to my plate.
    Thanks for the good thoughts and helpful words.
    Cara Thompson’s latest post: Teaching Money Management to Kids

  5. I really like the way you talk about praise, and with clear, concrete examples. 🙂 There are some elegant studies showing that praising actions and effort improves motivation and persistence, as compared with praising the person (“You’re so smart.”). Great advice, well told.
    Winsotn Sieck’s latest post: In Praise of (the Right Kind of) Praise

  6. Anna Clearwater says:

    Hi Pam, I help put together a newsletter to encourage New Zealand home educating familes in their journey. I wanted to check with you whether it would be ok to reprint your blog ‘5 Things Your Kids Need to Hear You Say’ in our next newsletter. Obviously we would acknowledge your blog as the source. I look forward to hearing back from you.

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