The Power of Words

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”

— Emily Dickinson

If this past election season has taught us nothing else, it has emphasized the power of words. We heard some of the most hurtful words that could be uttered. And it is very difficult to “unhear” them in the aftermath. Those words are being tossed up again and again – on both sides of the story.

My sainted grandmother used to say “Make your words sweet and tender. You never know when you may have to eat them.”

Teaching our children civility in conversation and manner begins with us. We need to model the behaviors and vocabulary we want them to use. When they are young, we need to protect them from hearing some of the crudities and vulgarities common in today’s world.

Growing up in my grandparents’ home, I never heard loud angry voices or cursing. My grandfather’s strongest epithet was “Well, hell’s bells, Mom.” To which my grandmother might respond “Ye gods and little fishes.”

That doesn’t mean they didn’t know or hadn’t heard the more vulgar language. It simply meant it was not approved for use in our home. In fact, my grandmother taught me that cursing did not show more emotion, but simply a lack of vocabulary. Such language was seen as a poverty of mind and an object for pity.

How do you teach your children to speak?


“When our hatred is violent, it sinks us even beneath those we hate. “

— Francois de la Rochefoucauld

This political season can become a teaching tool for parents. The campaigns were vitriolic, loud, rude, underhanded, and hateful. These are not good role models.

However, the election is over, and the decisions have been made. Our nation has survived as long as it has because of our history of the peaceful transfer of political power. The operative word here being peaceful.

It doesn’t matter if the president-elect is not your choice or mine. What matters is that our system works.

We have a system of checks and balances built into our political hierarchy. The executive branch is balanced by the legislative branch, and the judicial branch is the tie-breaker. At least that’s my off-the-cuff definition.

Changes are made by common, or at least majority, consent.

The non-winning candidate asked her supporters to give the winning candidate an open mind and an opportunity to serve. (Not a direct quote, but close.) Actually, I believe she said “we owe him…”

Those who demonstrate differently are not only showing disrespect to the winning candidate but to their own candidate as well.

We teach sports in school to get our young people accustomed to winning and losing graciously. (At least that’s the reason I’ve heard from every coach/teacher that I’ve worked with.) That attitude should carry over into all walks of life.

In this life, not everything is going to turn out the way you want or expect.

It’s time to get over it and get on with the business of living well. Hatred is too heavy a burden to carry.  We need to teach our children forgiveness, tolerance, moving on.

Watch Carefully

America’s future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.
~~ Jane Addams
Teaching is a fine art that requires multiple years in advanced training to do successfully. At least that is what the educational establishment would have you think. Teachers are encouraged to study and take more classes and acquire advanced degrees. All of which can give you information, but which cannot teach you the fine art of teaching.
Jane Addams quote gives us the answer in the last part. “Watch what we teach and how we live.”
The “how we live” part of this is the most essential. Our children watch what we do and imitate us. They take on our characteristics simply by observation and imitation.
If you want your child to be industrious, let him see you working and encourage him to help you along.
If you want your child to be sympathetic to others, let him see you as you empathize with others.
My sainted grandmother used to say “Your actions speak so loudly that I can’t hear what you are saying.”
Our best teaching is done by modeling the behavior we wish to instill in our children.

Aim for Achievement

“Always aim for achievement, and forget about success.”

— Helen Hayes

We live today in a society where celebrities are lauded and admired – sometimes for very little reason.  Their affairs and misbehaviors are much bandied about by the yellow press found in the supermarket check out lanes. But what have they done to further the cause of civilization or education or philosophy or arts?

In the mid-fifties (and people haven’t changed so much since then basically), Judy Holliday starred in a movie called It Should Happen To You. It also starred Peter Lawford and a very young Jack Lemmon.

The premise of the movie is that Judy Holliday, playing an ordinary young woman named Gladys Glover, wants to “make a name for herself.” She simply wants to be famous – not necessarily for doing anything noteworthy, but simply to be famous.

Eventually she learns how hollow fame for nothing really is. The climactic scene occurs when she is about to christen a military airship. Her soliloquy demonstrate her complete change of values from fame to accomplishment.

Have your young people from ten years of age on up watch it with you sometime. It will spark conversations about doing and being.

Teaching our children to accomplish starts when they are young. Potty training is an accomplishment. Putting the toys back in the toy box is another. Hanging up clothes, straightening the bed, carrying dishes from the table to the sink, all these are accomplishments that deserve our attention and our praise when carried out.

“Can you help me carry these dishes to the sink? Then we will have time for a game of Chutes and Ladders before you take your bath and go to bed.”

It’s a simple request, but it can spark cooperation and a sense of importance in a youngster.

Recognize that when your child is learning to make his bed, it will not be perfect. But if you help him in the beginning, he will learn to do it himself. As he becomes more proficient, the bed will be neater as time goes on.

Being a parent is all about teaching children to accomplish things. It requires patience because the first accomplishments may be incomplete or awkwardly done. We’re looking for accomplishment here, not perfection.

In the end, accomplishment or achievement leads to the ultimate success – self-satisfaction for a job well done.

Critical Thinking

In the aftermath of last evening’s debate, as well as the two prior debates, I was appalled. I was not surprised, but it was blatantly evident that our society has lost much in simple courtesy and civility.

It is no wonder that our children, as a generation, seem disrespectful. Two candidates for the highest office in the land spent three evenings arguing with each other, interrupting one another, and outright lying to the public as well as about each other.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am a conservative at heart. But the “conservative” candidate is not my idea of a role model. Then again, neither is the liberal candidate. Both have many shortcomings.

Too many of the pertinent issues have been hidden behind all the noise of the campaign. It will take much critical thinking to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Our children need to be taught how to think critically. They need to be able to sift the noise from the truth and make well-reasoned decisions. Following the crowd – or the polls – without weighing the consequences is destructive.

A national election should be a win-win proposition, with the people choosing between two good candidates, not simply the lesser of two evils.

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  ~~  II Chronicles 7:14 ( KJV)

God help us.

Differences and Listening

As any parent of more than one child knows, no two children are alike. So while the rules of the house remain constant, the approach of the parent to upholding those rules will vary from child to child.

Children can be rebellious, strong willed, docile, timid, fearless, curious, apathetic and a whole host of other adjectives can apply.  Once you have figured out your child’s temperament, it’s up to you to design the most effective way of directing that child’s energies.

I don't want to!!!



With a strong-willed child, you might offer a challenge. A timid child will perhaps respond better to a solicitation of help.



But with all children, listening to their hearts in what they say and do, acknowledging their personalities, and respecting their differences will yield a more satisfactory outcome.

Let us know in the comments what parenting techniques have worked well for you.

Constancy and Consequences

Last week we talked about children living either up or down to our expectations. But if the child doesn’t know what that expectation is, he/she cannot begin to meet it.

In dealing with our children, we need be sure that the rule is the same tomorrow as it is today. One way to take the rule out of whimsy is to make it a “house rule”.

  • In this house, we do not throw toys. We play with them quietly.
  • In this house, we put things away when we have finished using them.
  • In this house, we always wash our hands and face before coming to the table.

This makes the house the rule maker and takes personality out of the issue.

The key is saying “In this house, we…” instead of “I told you…” or “You have to…”. If you have a strong-willed child (and who doesn’t have at least one?), putting things on an “I versus you” basis is like firing the starting gun for a marathon.

Saying “we” has the psychological advantage of bringing the child into partnership with the parent. Not equal partners, I hasten to add. But partners just the same.  “Let’s clean the supper dishes quickly so we have time for….”works better that “bring the plates to the kitchen”. See the difference?  We have an activity with an attached reward (consequence) in the first instance. In the second, we simply have a chore with no consequence (either positive or negative) attached.


I can’t say it often enough. Every action carries within itself the seed of its own reward or punishment. It is the first law of physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The sooner our children learn action and consequence, the better off they’ll be. It is the knowledge, wisdom, and skill that will carry them through the remainder of their lives successfully.