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

Fishing...It's really about relationships!

By Stephen C. Schultz Spring is in the air and that well known feeling of wanting to get out of the house and go fishing is surging through my body. I found myself in a sporting goods store the other day perusing the fishing lure isle. I was in the yard after mowing the lawn and realized I was walking around my small 12 foot fishing boat that is still covered from winter. I have had people ask me over the years, "What's so fun about fishing?". They usually follow that question up with, "It's so boring!". From my perspective, they couldn't be further from the truth. Fishing represents so much more than being entertained. It's time in the wilderness with fresh air and solitude. It's time to think and ponder on life's problems.  It time to express gratitude and count your blessings. There is also the satisfaction of reading the water, observing a hatch and placing a lure or fly in the perfect spot. It's the excitement of the fish

An Open Letter to Parents Researching RedCliff Ascent

By Stephen C. Schultz "We will be known forever by the tracks we leave." Having been raised in Oregon, I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage year’s steelhead fishing the coastal waters, climbing the Middle Sister in the Cascade Mountain Range, drifting the McKenzie River and hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  I have mentioned to friends, family and colleagues on many occasions;   “From a therapeutic standpoint, there is no better place to have a student’s issues manifested quickly than in a wilderness setting.” The question then becomes, “Why do therapeutic issues rise to the surface in an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare program like RedCliff Ascent ?” Throughout the years of teenage development, most teens spend a lot of time with friends. These friends think the same, dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music and sometimes get into the same types of trouble. Some teens also develop patterns of communication and ma

"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