Being a parent is hard. You're ultimately responsible for creating an environment that makes it possible for your children to thrive and grow and learn. I admit it doesn't sound like it should be as hard as it is, until you realize that you only get a very short amount of time, and it races by far faster than it should. 

I don't claim to be an expert by any definition. I do, however, have four children, so I have a little experience.

One thing I've learned is that the way we talk to our children has an extraordinary effect on both their behavior and their self-confidence. Both of those are important in influencing the type of adult they are becoming. 

Sometimes it's hard to know just how important the things we say really are, but if your goal as a parent is to help your children to grow into strong leaders, these four words are more powerful than you might think:

"What do you think?"

As simple as that sounds, it's not always easy to stop and ask that question. In fact, it requires practice--but it's absolutely worth it. For example, it can be as easy as asking them "What do you think about what you heard at school?" Or, "What do you think we should do in this situation?"

Here's why you should ask this question:

It communicates that you're interested in their ideas and opinions.

Do you remember the first time you had an adult make you feel like you had a good idea? Let's be honest for a moment, as an adult, it's easy to assume that you have a monopoly on good ideas. As a parent, it's even easier. It's not often that we look to our children for ideas and opinions, but when you do, it's incredibly affirming. Want your child to be confident that they are capable of good ideas? Start by asking them for theirs. 

It encourages them to come to their own conclusions.

One of the other valuable things you can do for your children is to give them the tools to think for themselves. Part of that means making sure they have the tools to do that. To be clear, they aren't always going to want to, especially at first. It's far easier to just let mom and dad have all the answers. Except, I think we can all agree that children who do think for themselves grow up to be more independent, more confident, and more self-aware.

It gives them a safe place to practice expressing themselves.

Just as important is having a safe place to share those conclusions without fear that being wrong will lead to rejection. If you want your children to be unafraid to express themselves, and even to take smart risks, you--more than anyone else who will ever be in their life--have the opportunity to make it safe to do just that.

It expects them to challenge conventional wisdom.

Contrary to popular belief, children don't necessarily want to disagree with their parents. Sure, they'll argue with you about whether they should be allowed to get an iPhone or whether hanging out with certain friends is a good idea. When it comes to ideas, however, it can be difficult for a child to feel like they have anything to contribute when mom and dad are talking about important subjects. 

Someday, however, they'll be sitting in a meeting or having a conversation and they'll know something just isn't right. Or, they'll have an idea to make things better. Whether or not they're willing to speak up and challenge the way things are always done can often come down to whether mom and dad expected them to just go with the flow, or whether you lovingly encouraged them to think for themselves and challenge conventional wisdom.

The thing is, someone who's reading this is a parent. And that parent has a child in their home who is going to grow up someday and start a business, or lead a team, or run a Fortune 500 company. That's not an exaggeration. And, while there are a lot of things that have to happen between then and now, don't underestimate the importance of the words you use while they're still in your home.