Experts Share 'Feeling Words' Parents Can Teach Kids To Live A Great Life

Words parents teach can help kids build confidence and show compassion.

mom and daughter Chamomile_Olya / Shutterstock

Kids listen. They might not seem like they're paying attention all the time, but they are tuned in to the words, phrases and tone their parents use.

They carry those things with them throughout their lives. In many cases, the words parents teach their kids — consciously or unconsciously — shape their worldview.

So, parents need to be aware of how their words, actions and interactions with others are perceived by their kids.


Renowned relationship researcher John Gottman goes further, teaching the importance of consciously guiding kids through "emotion coaching." One goal of emotion coaching is to help kids develop emotional intelligence by teaching them the right words for their emotions.

Gottman's book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, draws on his research conducted with more than 120 families. He does not try to present emotion coaching as a cure-all for the challenges of parenting and family life.

Rather, he writes that emotion coaching can lead to greater emotional understanding and intimacy within the family.


"And when your family shares a deeper intimacy and respect," he writes, "problems between family members will seem lighter to bear."

There are many ways to help kids understand, process and react to their emotions. Teaching words that inspire positive emotions such as happiness, confidence and compassion is a great start.

To that end, we asked a panel of YourTango Experts to share their favorite "feeling words" that parents can use to help their kids build a reservoir of emotional intelligence that can last a lifetime.

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Experts share 'feeling words' parents can teach kids to have a great life (and learn emotional intelligence):

1. Offer encouragement whenever possible.

A fond childhood memory from when I was 3 is my father underhand pitching a wiffle ball a few feet away from me swinging a plastic bat. Most of my tries were a miss. Each time he would say, ”Almost!”

His encouragement with one word gave me joy.

When I did connect, I felt like a hero who could do anything I tried. “Almost” is a feeling word that encourages a kid to keep trying, and that off-target effort is not failure but a chance to try again.

- Jeff Saperstein, career coach

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2. Make honest, direct requests.

When we get comfortable with people we start to tell them how we feel. The problem with that is that we are often insecure and have had endless bad things happen to us.

When I repeatedly tell a potential partner or my official partner that I feel unattractive, that everyone always leaves me, my abandonment issues are triggered, etc. I feel as though I should be able to say these things to someone I’m contemplating forever with but if I see myself as someone everyone walks away from they could start seeing me the same way.

My insecurities could become self-fulfilling prophecies if I continue to give them energy.

When it comes to confidence it’s often begged to “fake it until you make it,” instead of letting your insecurities get the best of you and ranting about all your imperfections. What are you hoping to accomplish by discussing your insecurities?


Are you hoping to receive some words of affirmation? It’s better to ask directly or put on something sexy and wait for the compliments to flow organically.

Your words are powerful. Speak with caution

- Erika Jordan, love coach, NLP

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3. Teach them to express gratitude.

Teaching children to be emotionally expressive is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to their children.

One phrase in particular that I encourage is “I am thankful."

Having children express gratitude verbally allows them to appreciate and value other people, especially their parents, and most importantly leads to them valuing themselves.


There was a TikTok video showing a teen being dared to call his father to tell him that he was thankful for him. The father responded with gratitude and commenters were moved to tears.

Learning to say that we are thankful allows for that expression to flow throughout a child’s life. It is a sign of emotional intelligence and emotional maturity.

- Dr. Susan Pazak, clinical psychologist and life-change expert


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4. Help them push back against that inner critic.

I think one of the best tools that parents can teach their kids is the ability to talk back to the negative voice in their heads. This negative voice or inner critic persistently tells people what's wrong with them, how they don't measure up, why certain perceived false alarms are real threats and why their anger is justified.

These internal comments often contribute to explosive reactions, intense worry and debilitating anxiety. Instead of relying on reassurance or minimizing concerns in a well-intentioned but often ineffective effort to help kids get over unpleasant feelings, parents can actually make things worse. Kids may feel dismissed, unvalidated or unseen.

Instead, it is more useful to help kids learn how to reassure and comfort themselves. This takes time and practice. Help them use these phrases to express what's really going on and brainstorm solutions to intense emotions:

  • "I feel (this emotion) when you (take this action or say this) because (of this reason)."
  • "Everybody can feel this way sometimes. It's natural to worry or feel nervous in this situation."
  • "My goal is (this) or I want to (do this) so I'm willing to try (this)."
  • "I am trying to change. I haven't figured it out ... yet."

- Dr. Sharon Saline, clinical psychologist, author, speaker

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Carter Gaddis is the senior editor for experts and wellness with YourTango.

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