Skip to main content

The gift of words and how they impact us.

Guest Blogger
Linda Kavelin Popov

In the last week of his life, my father gave me a gift I had yearned for since childhood.  Like most parents of his generation, he thought that pointing out flaws and mistakes would shape my character and give me “backbone”. He believed that praise was unnecessary, even harmful. His criticisms, though well intentioned, left a deep scar, still tender whenever I receive a hint of criticism, especially from my intimates.

Looking frail, my father gathered the family around him, and spoke words of praise we had never heard before. I was stunned by the strength he saw in me, his appreciation for my compassion and my service.
The childhood chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is a lie. Words can break our hearts. When our words are weighty, we need to weigh our words. We are mirrors to our children of who they are. The words we use about them have a profound effect on how they see themselves.

Like so many others, I walked around for years with a harsh inner critic that would yammer at me at the slightest mistake, creating feelings of unworthiness, of not ever being good enough.  Because I wanted life to be better for my children, I slipped into “opposititis” --  over-praising them, justifying their mistakes, indulging their willfulness, and failing to give them sufficient discipline, leaving them with a life-long struggle for self-discipline.

Our real job as parents and teachers is to mentor our children, empowering them to be the best people they can be, not by shaming or indulging them, but by encouraging the virtues of their character. The world’s sacred traditions describe virtues as the essence of our character and the qualities of our souls. Virtues resonate as no other words can. Naming someone’s courage, kindness, caring, or self-discipline is a powerful catalyst for authentic self-esteem.

The Language of Virtues helps us to break the cycle of negativity in labeling children or ourselves. It replaces name-calling words like “stupid”, “lazy”, or “mean” by calling them to their virtues. It gives us a new way to respond when we are frustrated or disappointed by finding the virtue in each teachable moment.  Here are four ways to use the Language of Virtues to bring out the best in our children -- at any age:

  1. See the Good: Catch them in the act of committing a virtue. “It was kind of you to help Josh with his back-pack.” “You’re showing a lot of patience waiting to come home.”

  2. Always acknowledge improvement. “You were peaceful today. You only had two fights instead of six.”

  3. Use virtues to correct. “I’ll listen to anything you have to say as long as you say it respectfully.”  “Even when you’re angry, I expect you to use your peacefulness. Use your voice to say how you feel.”

  4. Be Clear: Tell them what you DO want, not what you DON’T want. “Please walk! Be considerate and keep everyone safe at the pool.”

I close most conversations with my sons or my husband with an expression of love and more importantly, an appreciation for some virtue I see. “You sound really determined.” “I love your passion for excellence in your job.” “Thanks for your thoughtfulness.”  It is deeply healing to acknowledge ourselves for our virtues as well, and to transform our internal critic into a gentle instructor that encourages us to keep growing our virtues.

Let’s take a moment to offer a precious gift to the ones we love, one that costs us nothing but is absolutely priceless. “Have I ever told you what I admire about you?” Find a virtue or two that’s just right and let them have it.

Linda is the author of The Family Virtues Guide and co-founder of The Virtues Projecttm .  She is a highly sought after international speaker on personal and global transformation.  

Learn more about the Virtues Project by visiting their website at See for a list of virtues definitions.


Popular posts from this blog

Lessons I learned from a childhood experience with bullying

By Stephen C. Schultz The dew around the window was starting to bead up. In a classic case of chaos theory, the little beads of water gave way to gravity and randomly bounced and bumped their way to the window sill like a steal marble in a pinball game. There was a small pool of water in the cracked and peeling beige paint. I sat facing the window, staring at the small engraved stone nestled in the flower beds. There weren’t many flowers at this time of year. Mostly rhododendrons and Oregon grapes reaching skyward from the damp bark mulch that covered the planter area.   The month of January in Eugene Oregon was filled with days and days of mist and fog.   In fact, pretty much from October through June was filled with fog, rain, mist, showers, freezing rain and occasionally snow. The local weathermen didn’t bother with predictions about the chance of precipitation; they took pride in developing new adjectives to describe the type of precipitation and how much you can expect.

Perfectly Wicked - A new take on an old fairy tale!

Guest Blogger Amanda Schultz Age 15 There she was…hair as black as night, lips as red as blood, skin as white as snow. Standing by the window, washing dishes, whistling while she worked. Snow White. I shudder with disgust every time I hear her name. What kind of a name is that anyway? “Snow White”. Gahhh, it’s a name that practically begs to be made fun of. Yet, there she goes, frolicking around like she owns the Enchanted Forest. No. I’m the Queen. I’m in charge. My magic mirror was mistaken. I’m the Fairest of them all, not that sorry excuse for a princess. One bite from my poison apple and that air-head will be so ugly not even her mother could love her. And I will be the Fairest once again! I suppose that I should rewind a little bit. It wasn’t always a competition between Snow White and me. In fact, back in the day, we had a nice little system going on. I would rule the kingdom and practice my magic, while Snow did the dishes and tended the garden. She stayed out of my w

"Sugar and Spice" - A Child's Kindness

By Stephen C. Schultz I recall a childhood rhyme that went something like this; “…sugar and spice and everything nice…that’s what little girls are made of!” As the father of three daughters and one son, there is no doubt about the truthfulness of that saying. I was in San Diego a couple of weeks ago with my family. We were down at Seaport Village right on the bay having lunch. It was a beautiful day, sun shining, light breeze and we were eating on an outside deck. We were engaged in a conversation about what we wanted to do later that day when I noticed my youngest daughter, a fifth grader, was focused on something else. So, I turned to see what she was gazing at. She was following the movements of a transient man who had walked up onto the deck and was systematically searching the garbage cans for food. He was looking in each receptacle and reaching in to move the contents around. At one can, his hand came out with a partially eaten sandwich of some kind. He reached back