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“I love you” is nice… everyone likes to hear those three little words. But there are three other words that are even more welcome, and mean even more, to children from preschool on up and even to your friends and family.

“I love you” is nice but “You were right” is even better.

Just think of what “you were right” says. It says that the other person knows something the speaker wasn’t sure of. It says that the other person is competent and capable; she is valued as someone who knows. And it says that the speaker is willing to acknowledge his own lack of understanding about the issue. “You were right” elevates the other person to at least equal status to the person who says it.

“You were right” demonstrates love more specifically than “I love you” ever can. So why doesn’t “you were right” just jump to our lips? Why is it so hard to say?

We might grudgingly say, “you were right this time… ,” making the statement temporary and conditional.

We might say, “you were right but I was right too… ,” muscling ourselves onto the podium alongside the other person.

Or we might even say, “you were right but you were wrong about that other thing once…,” which is about as ungracious as a person can get.

It’s not easy to say “you were right” to our spouses and friends. It’s even harder to say it to our children. Why?

Saying “you were right” means we were wrong. We hate to be wrong. Saying “you were right” is a real sacrifice for us. We have to sacrifice our own status as an authority-on-everything and admit that maybe we really don’t know it all. This is hard, especially when it’s our kids who are showing us up.

But hearing “you were right” is such a boost. It gives a person such a warm, happy feeling inside. It validates one’s own abilities and value. It makes a person feel appreciated. It makes a person feel loved.

The key thing for kids is gaining a sense of their own abilities, feeling confident of those abilities, and feeling competent to apply their abilities to real-life problems. A child’s self-confidence is essential to his success in school and in life and it’s something to encourage.

Yes, kids can sometimes be argumentative and dogmatic. Their need to prove their competence is sometimes not tempered by courtesy. But if they’re right, then they’re right. Tell them so.

Certainly hearing “I love you” is essential. But hearing “you were right” is another great gift. Build your children up.

Tell them when they’re right.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.