— Getty

Words matter. Especially when you have kids and need to tell them (and retell them and retell them) any number of the million things they need to learn to survive on this crazy rock. It’s a big responsibility and, well, it’s all too easy to dwell on the words that don’t go so well or that you should’ve said more but didn’t. But it’s also important to focus on the good moments, like when you make a point to say something powerful — a piece of advice or simply a reminder — to your kids and realize it got through. We spoke to 12 fathers about the words and sayings they purposely repeated in order to remind, encourage and embolden their kids. Even though they spoke these words long ago, they each say they successfully left an indelible mark many years later.

1. “It’s Not About What You Say, But How You Say It.”

“As an English professor, I’ve witnessed the beauty and power of words. But as a father, I’ve seen how they shape lives, especially when shared between a parent and child. One particular piece of advice I imparted to my kids stands out. I once told them, In life and language, it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. This sentiment was about the importance of tone, intent, and authenticity in communication. In an age where words can be misconstrued and texts misinterpreted, I wanted them to understand the power of genuine, heartfelt conversation. I believe it’s made them more empathetic, better listeners, and thoughtful speakers.” – Clifford, 48, California

2. Always Ask, “Why?”

“When they were little, this mantra was a green light to inundate me with their endless ‘whys’ about the world. But as they’ve grown, I see them question things in school, in relationships, and in life—not accepting things at face value but striving for deeper understanding. It’s cultivated a love for learning, and critical thinking skills that are so important today. I believe fostering their innate curiosity has given them an edge in navigating the world, and I’m proud to see them never settle for the surface of things. I think it’s important for them to always stay curious.” – John, 58, Massachusetts

3. “Every Chapter…Adds To Our Story.”

“My two daughters and I had a lot of great moments together. It makes me a proud dad to have shared the time with them when it most mattered. I have always tried to inspire my kids whenever I can, and one phrase stands out in my mind: ‘Life is like a big book, filled with many chapters, some joyful and others challenging. But remember, every chapter, no matter how tough, adds to the beauty and depth of our story.’ I want them to embrace each page with an open heart. It’s a phrase they now say to each other, and to me. My youngest is 15 and my oldest is about to turn 18. I think they’re both growing out so well, which makes me happy.” – Michael, 44, California

4. “Girls Can Do Anything Boys Can Do.”

“One of the most important things I told my two boys when they were young was that girls are equal to boys in every way, and that they deserve the same rights, opportunities, and respect as boys. I taught them to value girls for their intelligence, skills, personality, and character, not for their appearance, clothes, or body. I wanted them to see girls as human beings, not as stereotypes or standards. I wanted them to appreciate girls for their inner beauty, not for their outer beauty. They treat girls with dignity, kindness, and empathy. They support girls’ empowerment and equality. They admire girls’ talents and achievements. They respect girls’ choices and opinions. They are not afraid to express their feelings and emotions to girls. They are not ashamed to admit their mistakes and apologize to girls. I am proud to say that this lesson has helped my boys grow into respectful young adults, which makes me proud.” – Goddell, 38, New York

5. “Never Give Up.”

“One piece of advice I’m glad I shared with my kids when they were little is the importance of perseverance. I often told them, No matter how hard things may seem, never give up. Keep pushing forward and believe in yourself. I chose this particular advice because I believe that teaching our children the value of perseverance is crucial for their personal growth and success in life. By instilling this mindset, I wanted my kids to understand that setbacks and challenges are a natural part of life, but they should never let them define their potential. It’s a lesson that has helped them overcome obstacles, develop resilience, and maintain a positive attitude even in difficult times.” – Matthew, 42, Illinois

6. “It’s Okay To Be Different.”

“One thing I’m glad I told my children when they were little is that we are all unique, and that’s what makes us special. I’m proud of this because as they’ve grown into their individual personalities, they’ve embraced their unique traits and are not afraid to express themselves. This lesson has also helped them to value and respect the individuality of others. They’ve really embraced the idea that it’s okay to be different, and accept those differences as they come.” – Alexander, 42, Colorado

7. “The Only Person You Can Control Is Yourself.”

“It’s important to remember that you can’t control other people or their actions. You can only control your own actions and reactions. When you focus on controlling yourself, you will be happier and more successful in life. It’s important to be kind to everyone, even those who are not kind to you. When you’re kind to everyone, regardless of their race, religion, gender, or social status, you make the world a better place.” – Bob, 33, Nigeria

8. “Never Be Afraid To Ask Questions.”

“It’s one of the best ways to learn and grow. This simple advice has not only encouraged their natural curiosity, but also fostered an environment of openness and learning in our home. My youngest, for instance, developed an interest in astronomy. Instead of merely satisfying her curiosity with answers, I encouraged her to ask more questions, research, and explore. Today, she’s a teenager with an immense knowledge of the universe and a passion for space exploration. This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t instilled the importance of asking questions and seeking answers in her at an early age. I believe encouraging curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge is one of the best gifts you can give a child. It promotes self-learning, critical thinking, and a passion for discovery, which are crucial skills in today’s rapidly changing world.” – Liam, 45, Washington

9. “Live In The Moment.”

“One of my dad goals is to teach my kids to stay focused on what’s happening in the moment, and not dwell on the past or worry about the future. I think that learning to truly live in the present is similar to learning a language in that it’s tough for adults to do, but comes a lot more easily to kids. The best way I’ve found to share this lesson isn’t by sitting them down and giving them a lesson. Instead, I watch for stuff they do that reflects this kind of mindset, and make a point of telling them that I admire them for it. When they’re doing something they love and are totally focused on the present, I make sure to compliment them on how happy, brave, and talented they are. It usually does the trick.” – Phil, 46, Ohio

10. “Enjoy Nature.”

“I’m so grateful that we live in an area full of nature. We have hiking, wildlife, and all sorts of trees and flowers within minutes from our home. I’ve lived in this area all my life, but didn’t learn to appreciate it until I was older. In fact, it was shortly after my first son was born that I realized I love being outside in nature. I would go for walks to reset and relax as a new dad, and I haven’t missed a chance to express how important I think it is for everyone — especially my kids — to embrace and appreciate nature whenever possible. Not to be too cynical, but one day we might not be able to. At least not like we can right now.” – Darrell, 45, North Carolina

11. “Please. Thank you.”

“I don’t want to come across as an angry old man shaking my fist at ‘kids these days’ and saying, ‘Get off my lawn!’ But, man, kids today have no manners. It’s so frustrating, because manners really aren’t that hard. Right? It’s basically a handful of phrases and gestures you have to remember and do, like, a few times a day. It sounds silly — or maybe it’s just obvious — but I’m so, so, so glad I taught my kids to say things like, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you.’ Having manners and being polite is a wonderful gift you can give to anyone, and there’s no reason not to act politely whenever possible. It’s one of the things I see my kids do now – they’re in college- that makes me so proud. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only parent who’s told his kids it’s important to be kind and respectful, and I’m glad I did.” – Justin, 48, New Hampshire