Before my husband and I had kids, we often talked about what we would differently when we became parents. Since we rarely heard “I love you” from our own Asian parents, we promised that we would say “I love you” often to each other and our future children.
However, a few years ago when I began to re-learn Chinese with my kids, saying “我爱你 / 我愛你” and other positive affirmations felt awkward. Although words of love and encouragement are commonplace in English language, care and concern are expressed differently in Chinese culture.
Despite the cultural differences, my perspective as a pediatrician and bilingual parent is that positive affirmations are important. Language is living and evolving; together we can normalize the changes we desire for our children’s generation.
Parenting differences in Western versus Asian culture
Compared to Asian culture, Westerners (eg, Americans) are much more affectionate physically and verbally. However, when “I love you” is used as liberally as “I love ice cream”, these words can feel superficial and lose meaning.
On the other hand, in Asia, emotions are often suppressed. Love is typically shown through acts of service, such as making sure the people we care about are fed and clothed, often through self-sacrifice.
The downside for many Asian-Americans is that love can feel conditional. Love and worthiness may depend on a parent’s standard of perfection, success, and filial duty.
The case for using positive affirmations in Chinese and English
Due to my fascination with these cultural differences, I minored in psychology during college. Unsurprisingly, my parents were disappointed with the tuition and time spent on these classes.
However, research shows that positive affirmations can improve health, well-being and relationships. Self-confidence can also help a child persevere through bullying and other stressful experiences.
Psychologist Dr. Jenny Wang points out: “There is something powerful about words. And when they are not spoken, it can feel like a void that may never be filled. There is also something powerful about the words ‘I love you’ spoken freely, not in exchange for any behavior or transaction.”
Therapist Sam Louie says: “Many Asian children (now adults in my practice) report thinking their parents loved them (cognitive understanding) yet in their hearts can not “feel” the love and hence an emotional disconnect resounds in their souls.
In order to feel loved and have healthy attachments with their parents or caregivers, children need [to be] seen, soothed, safe, and secure.”
15 Positive Affirmations That Parents Can Say to Kids in Chinese and English
Below are common parenting phrases that I’ve been trying to say every day to my children.
With the help of our Chinese tutor and relatives, I’ve translated the phrases to simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, and Hanyu Pinyin for parents who are learning with their children.
Please note that there may be regional differences in choice of phrases in mainland Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.
Unconditional positive affirmations
Especially as minorities in our community where few people look like our children, we want to make sure they know they are worthy and valued.
- I love you. 我爱你。/ 我愛你。(Wǒ ài nǐ.)
- I love you forever. 我永远爱你。(Wǒ yǒngyuǎn ài nǐ.)
- I’ll always love you. 我一直都爱你. / 我一直都愛你. (Wǒ yīzhí dōu ài nǐ.)
- I am proud of you. 我真为你骄傲。/ 我真為你驕傲。 (Wǒ zhēn wèi nǐ jiāo’ào.)
- You are beautiful on the inside and outside. 你的外表和内在都一样美丽。/ 你的外表和內在都一樣美麗。(Nǐ de wàibiǎo hé nèizài dōu yīyàng měilì.)
Unwavering support through challenges
Growing up, I knew I was disappointing my parents with each mistake I made and each milestone that I didn’t accomplish. A+ was the standard expectation, but I always feel like my efforts were never enough.
On the other hand, my husband and I want our children to know that our love is unconditional. We will be there for our kids when they fall and encourage them to get back up.
- It’s okay to make mistakes. 做错了也没关系。/ 做錯了也沒關係。(Zuò cuòle yě méiguānxì.)
- Thank you for trying. 谢谢你愿意尝试。/ 謝謝你願意嘗試。(Xièxiè nǐ yuànyì chángshì.) OR 努力就好 (nǔlì jiù hǎo).
- You can do it! 你一定做得到! (Nǐ yīdìng zuò dédào!)
- You kept going even though it was hard. 即使很难, 你继仍然要续前进。 / 即使很難, 你繼仍然要續前進。(Jíshǐ hěn nán, nǐ jì réngrán yào xù qiánjìn.)
- I enjoy doing this with you. 我真的很喜欢和你一起做这件事。 / 我真的很喜歡和你一起做這件事。(Wǒ zhēn de hěn xǐhuān hé nǐ yīqǐ zuò zhè jiàn shì.)
- Add oil! 加油! (Jiāyóu!)
Although 加油! literally translates to “add oil”, it is probably the most authentic Chinese form of encouragement in this list. In English, 加油 can mean any of the following:
- “Hang in there!”
- “Keep trying!”
- “Let’s do this!”
- “Go! Go! Go!”
- “Good luck!”
- “I’m rooting for you!”
In addition, 加油! can also be used in the context of disappointment. For example, if someone fails a test, a parent or teacher might say, “你应该加油 / 你應該加油 (Nǐ yīnggāi jiāyóu). This can mean “You need to try harder” or “You need put in more effort”.
Respect for the child
Body language is important for showing your child that you have his or her undivided attention. This includes eye contact and crouching down to child’s eye level.
In addition, the following phrases show care for a child’s thoughts and actions.
- Thank you for telling me.
- 谢谢你告诉我。/ 謝謝你告訴我。 (Xièxiè nǐ gàosù wǒ.)
- 谢谢你跟我说。/ 謝謝你跟我說。(Xièxiè nǐ gēn wǒ shuō.)
- I am listening. 我在听。我在聽。(Wǒ zài tīng.)
- I really like how you’re doing this! 我很喜欢你这样做! / 我很喜歡你這樣做! (Wǒ hěn xǐhuān nǐ zhèyàng zuò)。
- You have great ideas. 你的想法很棒 (Nǐ de xiǎngfǎ hěn bàng.)
- I like your ideas. 我很喜欢你的主意。 / 我很喜歡你的主意。(Wǒ hěn xǐhuān nǐ de zhǔyì.)
Humility and honesty
Being humble in front of your child and welcoming honesty can encourage trust and support through mistakes and challenges.
- Thank you for being honest with me. 谢谢你说实话/謝謝你說實話。 (Xièxiè nǐ shuō shíhuà) or 谢谢你如实跟我说 / 謝謝你如實跟我說。(Xièxiè nǐ rúshí gēn wǒ shuō.)
- I have a lot to learn, too. 我也有很多要学的。/ 我也有很多要學的。(Wǒ yěyǒu hěnduō yào xué de.)
Printable bilingual positive affirmations infographic
Please click on the link below to download a print-friendly versions of the above infographic!
What other positive affirmations do you say to your children in English or Chinese?
Do you feel comfortable saying “I love you” and other positive affirmations to your children in Chinese or other languages?
Please feel free to share your translations and experiences in the comments below.
More Bilingual Parenting Resources
- 7 Tips for Tackling Big Challenges Like Bilingual Parenting
- 12 Bible Verses on Faith and Parenting in English, Chinese, and Korean
- 7 Reassuring Facts About Raising Bilingual Children
- 15 Effective Ways to Motivate Your Child to Read