The most important job in the world

Saturday February 13, 2016 Written by Published in Virtues in Paradise

As Oprah Winfrey once told me when I had the blessing of being on her television show with our first book, The Family Virtues Guide, parenting is the most important job in the world.


Those who raise the children are shaping the future. Everything we do and say to children, and more than that, the example we set, has enormous influence on the path they will take through life.

Our children’s character is largely formed by the words we use about them. We need to realize that our words are weighty. Therefore, we need to weigh our words.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “encourage one another and build each other up…(19) do not quench the spirit.” The old expression “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” should be revised to say “words can quench my spirit.” As adults, we are the ones on whom young children depend for care, love, and self-esteem. Every time we use words about them, we are holding up a mirror showing them who they are. So, if we want our children to be helpful, kind, loving, obedient, courageous, we need to give up labels like “stupid”, “lazy”, “useless”, “good for nothing”, and use virtues words instead. If a child is resisting doing a chore, don’t call him “lazy”, call him to helpfulness. “You need to be helpful now and do your share.” When they do what you ask, remember to acknowledge them. “You were really helpful. Look how clean the yard looks now.” When they do a poor job, point out something they did well, then what needs improvement. “If you want to be excellent, you need to finish the job.” If they lie to you, never label them a liar. It will keep them stuck in that behavior. Call them to truthfulness. “You need to tell me the truth now. I know you can be truthful.”

Sometimes you have to catch them in the act of doing something right.

I was once walking on a beach in Hawaii one early morning. A boy of five or six was sneaking up to large doves and kicking sand on them.

The birds were having trouble lifting off again. I called across to him. “Do you know how to be kind? Please be kind to the birds.” He looked startled and backed away, then ran off. I saw him in the hotel elevator with his Dad a little while later and said, “You’re the boy who decided to be kind.” He and his father both looked absolutely stunned.

My first grandchild habitually pulled her new baby sister’s hair.  I would take her hand and say “Gentle”, stroking the infant’s head. She did it herself and then I could honestly say, “You know how to be gentle, don’t you.” The pulling stopped. Her mother couldn’t understand what had happened as she had tried threats, labels and punishment to no avail.

The power of encouragement is literally awesome.

Children watch us like hawks and learn constantly from our actions. Virtue is caught more than taught. If we are critical of others in the family, growling and arguing, they believe that is normal and acceptable. If they see us showing love, encouragement, affection and respect, that is the standard they will set for themselves. It’s very true that charity begins at home. So, in this still new year, let’s resolve to be encouragers, not discouragers, not putting down but building up, not only our children but everyone in our lives.


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