How to talk to your children about: emotions + affirmations

Children benefit from specificity in affirmation

As with many other aspects of life, children come with their own unique set of needs. Praise and affirmations for children can make a huge impact on the development of their confidence and identity. While a simple “good job” or “way to go” feels natural and sufficient, children need to hear more specific words and phrases. Especially in the first 3 years of life when they are learning increased autonomy, purpose, and growing their skillset. Children benefit from hearing specifically what they are doing a ”good job” at. An example would be instead of saying Good Job, you can say That looked hard, you did it! The goal of these types of affirmations are for children to be intrinsically motivated. This means they are working for the personal satisfaction it provides, not to please others.  

On the flip side, when a child is upset or having a hard time regulating their emotions, they again need to hear specifics instead of a generic “it’s/you’re ok”. 

Here are a few example scenarios to get your gears in motion to help you think of specific ways to offer affirmations to children. Next time you feel inclined to throw out a quick “good job”, take a moment to pause and say “Hmm, I see that…” (then describe what you see).  “You look proud…are you so glad you…” (describe what they did), “I’m so glad you,” (describe again what they did). It sounds repetitive but that is good for children and is practice for us at observing and commenting positively on what we see. 

Situational Examples

In anything new, give yourself grace as this may be a difficult shift or habit to acclimate to. Here are some situational examples:

  • When your little Picasso brings you a new masterpiece they meticulously worked hard on for the past hour, you can say:
    • “I like all the colors you used…tell me about your picture…. tell me what this is right here….I like how you drew _____’.  This allows conversation to flow, whereas stating what you think the picture is, limits what the child created.  
  • After your child accomplishes a task or request such as being still or patiently waiting their turn, offer specific praise and acknowledge aspects they might have had difficulty with:
    • “Thank you for waiting so patiently/quietly….it can be hard to wait when you are so excited….I noticed you held your body still.  Are you proud of yourself?  I appreciated your effort and am proud of your hard work.
Helping your child recognize and differentiate emotions

I fully acknowledge how difficult it can be to hear your child struggle with emotions and even cry, however, helping them understand and identify their emotions early on will help them strengthen their emotional intelligence and self-regulation. I started with Thompson when he was an infant with a chart I found at Dollar Tree. It had 9 basic emotions and I was able to glue it to a posterboard and present it to him. I used a pointer finger tool and spoke about the face I saw and what emotion it was. We have used that tool regularly and he is now 4 years old. This has helped us when he is feeling an emotion such as frustration, anger, or sadness.  He can now verbalize that emotion. We have not had tantrums or blow outs for this reason.  He has the words to describe the emotions and then we can spend time in our calm corner, do deep breathing, counting, snuggle a blanket, or give big hugs to help regulate those emotions.  

When your child seems to be upset in some way, rather than saying “It’s Ok” try something like “I see you’re having a hard time.…you seem ____(angry, upset, frustrated, confused). What do you think would be something we can do to help you right now? I am here and listening.”  Being present even during difficult emotions shows that you are consistent. That even during their hard times you are still there to support and love them. I find that I get heightened with really loud noises, so I use earplugs or headphones sometimes to lessen the volume. Thompson is aware that I am using these tools to help my ears not hurt but that I can still hear him and be near him with his big feelings. A great book for this type of presence is called The Rabbit Listens. It starts with a little boy’s blocks falling over and animals try to come help him in ways he did not find helpful. The story goes on to the end where a rabbit comes and is just beside the boy. He does not try to fix it or tell him what to do, he is just present. So, remember, if uncertain what to do, being present is a powerful tool.  

Now, I know I just said to avoid “it’s ok”, however, when validating emotions this phrase has it’s time and place. Letting children know “it’s ok to cry/be upset/etc.” or “you can be angry but you cannot ____ (hit, bite, spit, hurt others)”. This helps children learn appropriate responses to emotions and feel safe expressing themselves. 

Incorporating affirmations into your daily routine

There are many ways to incorporate affirmations into a child’s daily routine.  As a caregiver, you can speak these affirmations to your children regularly.  You can also write them out and place on their mirror, lunch bag, or bookbag. I love to ask Thompson to stand in front of a mirror and look at himself and then I speak affirmations over him. I love to see his face brighten up and a huge smile come across his face. I also ask him to repeat them after me so that he becomes used to giving himself praise and affirming who he is. I often do this with what the Word of God says about him. That he is wonderfully made, mighty, powerful, loving, and worthy.  

Here are other examples of affirmations to speak to children or write out for them to speak to themselves daily:

I am:






A Child of God



Fun to be around  

My parents love me

I attract great friends

I show others respect 

I can control my emotions

I share

My words matter

I am good at solving problems

I don’t give up

Making mistakes help me grow

I don’t have to be perfect to be worthy

I have many talents 

I hope that these helpful child development tips and affirmation ideas will support you in encouraging and loving your child. I would love to hear what ideas you try and how they make a difference in your child and your relationship with them. Please feel free to reach out anytime!

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