“The greater the man, the greater the courtesy.”

- Alfred Lord Tennyson

The way we communicate or interpret communication from other people is our life link to the world around us. Our communication skills, or lack of, both sending and receiving, have a dramatic effect on our self-esteem.

Our interpretation of the messages we get from other people, especially from people about whom we deeply care, impacts our self-esteem. We also feel a dramatic reinforcement effect from messages that are repeated. Feedback is vitally important.

Abraham Maslow, the eminent psychologist, conceived the five-level hierarchy of universal needs. Beyond physiological needs (food, rest, etc.), safety and security needs (protection, order, etc.), we all need to belong socially (to feel loved), to be recognized and to feel confident and useful. At the very top of the hierarchy, is our self-actualization need — personal growth and reaching our full potential.

It is good to have discussions with children about respecting ourselves, and feeling that we are worthy and deserving. Children may ask themselves, “Do I deserve to be loved? Do I deserve to succeed in life?” Take the focus away from what they think is wrong with themselves, or makes them think they are undeserving. Focus exclusively on getting them to recognize and express their strengths (refer to lesson #1 Activity A.).

Every time children are nurtured and strengthened by positive feedback and love, it is an investment in the future of our nation, and the well-being of the world. The feeling and memory of being loved is a rock to stand on when a child is burdened by negative influences and feelings. The memory and impressions of this experience of being loved help the child make the choice between right and wrong, good and bad. With the experience of being loved, children have a better reference when choosing which path to follow. Love and acceptance give children a foundation from which to grow, achieve, and reach for their best.

“Love is an ever fixed star that looks on tempest and is never shaken.”

- Shakespeare

Patience, compassion, attention, and positive feedback can transform a child. Children may not appear to be affected, but inside they are gathering and storing information to use as references for who they are and where they belong.

“Give a compliment with harmony, find something wonderful of you and me.
Speak the sweet truth loud and clear, come on gather around, so we all can hear
You are not expected to be perfect, no you’re not, and neither am I
We all need the same things, we all love and laugh and cry.”

- “With Harmony” (Song #3, Dianna)
I Am An Unrepeatable Happening, So Are You

I like me. I’m good enough, and I’m getting even better.

A person who appreciates and likes himself:

  • Accepts that he doesn’t have to be perfect…everybody makes mistakes
  • Has the freedom to give to others and accepts others the way they are
  • Doesn’t have to frequently think about himself and keep reassuring himself
  • Doesn’t have to talk about and draw attention to himself
  • Has the ability to notice and appreciate others
  • Has the ability to give, to be kind and to be generous
  • Sees others in light of his own feelings about himself
  • Takes responsibility for his own feelings, speech, and behavior
  • He doesn’t use the excuse, “you, he, she, they”…made me do it

I don’t like me, I’m not good enough.

Many of us have been trained, or conditioned, to put ourselves down and not to feel good about ourselves. Many of us have been told that it is bad to admire or to like ourselves.

A person who does not like or appreciate himself:

  • Thinks about himself most of the time and tries to control everyone around him
  • Compares himself to others and must convince others and himself that he is the best
  • Has the habit of criticizing or making fun of others in an attempt to make himself look or feel better than others. He will go to great lengths to control others. (i.e. control or destroy)
  • Makes you “wrong” so he can be “right,” and tells others he is the victim when he’s the bully
  • Has little to give because of his need to receive…everything is all about him, always
  • Has difficulty praising or complimenting others. If he does compliment, it is sarcastic
  • Sees others in light of his own feelings about himself. Does not take responsibility for his thoughts, feelings, speech, or actions…it is always someone else’s fault

“An empty bag cannot stand upright.”

- Benjamin Franklin

Compliments or Criticism–Acceptance or Rejection

When my daughter was five, an adult was observing her in her free unrestricted delight with her new coloring book. He growled, “Hey! What are you doing? That’s not what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to color within the lines!” Her delight and joy immediately became embarrassment, shame, and disappointment. Her head went down, her shoulders dropped, and she looked at her art in a new light. She put her coloring book away for a long time.

The majority of who we are can be determined by:

  • What we have seen, heard, and been touched by
  • Our attitude and interpretation of those experiences
  • The choices we make to become bitter or better, reflected in our speech and actions

“The origin and commencement of the malady is neglected love.”

- Shakespeare

Children need to learn the skill of giving and receiving compliments and positive words of encouragement. Dr. Dennis Waitley, author of 2005-A Child’s Odyssey, emphasizes the difference between:

  • The child who is loved by his parents
  • The child who feels loved by his parents.

Like Dr. Waitley, I’ve never met a parent who didn’t admit or profess to love their child. Yet, I’ve met a lot of children who do not feel loved. The number of children who express that their parents don’t enjoy them, don’t like them, don’t love them, or are disappointed in them, is surprising.

Mistakes, Problems, and Asking for Help

“In the middle of difficulties, lies opportunity.”

- Albert Einstein

There are several components to learning self-esteem skills:

  • We begin with an understanding of mistakes…that everyone makes mistakes
  • We don’t have to be perfect to deserve love and compliments
  • We can make mistakes, and still be lovable, capable, and worthy, and still deserve a compliment

The inability to tolerate or accept our mistakes or mistakes of others leaves us frustrated, anxious depressed, and dissatisfied. Demanding perfection, plus the fear of failing, decreases our chances for success, interferes with personal relationships, creates burnout, and causes one to give up.

Self-esteem is enhanced when we don’t require perfection of ourselves or anyone else.

 Those who are afraid to make personal mistakes:

  • Become rigid and won’t accept change in themselves or others
  • Don’t set goals or try to live a dream for fear of failure
  • Are underachievers or extreme overachievers
  • Don’t even try to do their best
  • Give up before they begin
  • Are very controlling and demanding in all relationships – abusive spouses, bosses, and parents?

Babe Ruth struck out more than any other ball player! He wasn’t afraid of making a mistake.

We all feel better when we remember that mistakes are not tied to our personal worth. When a mistake is made, take the attention away from the mistake and focus the attention on something that they do very well. Their confidence will grow. We all feel safe to try again, when we know we won’t be judged. A mistake is only a mistake if we don’t learn from it. When we learn from it, then a mistake becomes a learning experience. Perfection is not required.

After several bankruptcy delays, Walt Disney created Disneyland.

My number-one rule for parenting was “the golden rule.” My rule was treating others and treating my children the way that I wanted to be treated. This profound rule made parenting and working with children, so much easier and more fun. It gave me a clear perspective on the difference between the first time mistakes, and deliberate disobedience of an established rule. I was able to put myself in a child’s shoes with their age, stage, and point of view. It sure reduced stress and added humor and new ways of thinking in daily life.

One day my daughter and I were making cookies. At age three she was a “walking why?” She asked, “Why are we using the rolling pin?” I explained that we needed to make the dough flat so that we could cut the shapes of the cookies. Just then the phone rang and I left the room to answer it.

During the phone conversation I could hear a rhythmic pounding sound. Her explosive laughter was in between the pounding and the words “flat! flat! flat!” I hung up the phone and rejoined her. To my surprise she was standing in the middle of the table, barefoot, looking so pleased with herself to be helping me. She was stomping on the cookie dough. She felt so good about her accomplishment. With joy, she triumphantly announced “I did it all by myself, Mommy, look, it’s flat!”

From her three-year-old perspective she had helped me. I had never said, “Don’t stand on the table or stomp on the cookie dough.” I did say, “The dough has to be flat.” I didn’t say, “The rolling pin is the only way to do it.” She had figured out a way she could make it flat, to surprise me. She made an innocent mistake. She thought that she was helping me. It was an exercise in seeing the world from a three-year-old’s point of view. I then put myself in her shoes and treated her the way that I would have liked to be treated if I were her. It was a mistake, she didn’t know what was acceptable, she wasn’t perfect, and it was okay. I am not perfect. After an explanation and new cookie dough, she never did it again.

Handling Problems Like They Do on TV

Television and movies can give children an unrealistic view of the quality of other people’s lives, and the way others handle their problems. TV fosters children’s perceptions that:

  • Problems are easily solved with power, violence and deception. Whoever is the biggest, the toughest, the most manipulative, the meanest, or has the best gun or the most money wins.
  • Or TV says, other people are lovable and capable, and have loving friends and families and I don’t. If a child without a positive support role at home adopts this view, he can’t help feeling “something is wrong with me.” Children can then feel embarrassed and become secretive. They don’t want anyone to know what their lives are really like. How can they admit to others that they are abused or rejected or that they live with domestic violence between their parents?
  • Or TV says, when someone does have a problem, it just goes away or it is solved magically. Children get the unrealistic expectation that there must be a quick fix, or some magic pill, or that perhaps someone will spontaneously intervene and effortlessly make life fair.

We emphasize to children that everyone has problems, and those who are honest, smart, brave, and strong, will seek help to solve their problems, to change their situation, or to change themselves.


Criticism & Shaming Others — B = Blaming S = Shaming

Criticizing and shaming others is the opposite of supporting and complimenting them.

“What is a bully? What does he do? He’s afraid, he feels ugly, and he’s pickin’ on you
A bully feels unimportant, feels unloved, and small. He pretends to be strong, to be the boss of it all. He talks loud and mean, with bad words, talks tough. He threatens to hurt you or to take your stuff. He makes fun of others, calls names to criticize. He’s talking about himself, it’s in his own mind.

Disregards your rights, making you feel bad. He talks angry, sarcastic, to hide his lonely and his sad. He laughs and puts down everyone in sight, he thinks it will make him bigger–sorry–not right. He doesn’t like himself. He’s afraid you will find out. What his fear and weakness is all about. He tries to be big by making you afraid and small. See through his routine, he’s heading for a fall.”

- "What is a Bully?" (Song #7, Dianna)
Boo Bully Free CD

With the “Boise Broncos” winning the 2010 “Fiesta Bowl,” (Good job Broncos! Wow!) I started watching football and learning the terms and the rules of the game. A friend was explaining the “offensive” team verses the “defensive” team. I finally got it, relating it to self-esteem, bully communication, and relationships. On the football field “offensive” works. The job of the “offensive” team is to get what you want, go where you want to go, not care about what the other guys want or need, wipe the other guys out physically and emotionally. Keep them off their feet, never let them figure out what’s going on. Destroy their confidence, well-being, and hope. Keep them afraid of you and then feel like you won and they lost. Hmmm, “offensive”…what an appropriate word. On the football field, everybody agrees to play under the same rules. They are basically equally matched in size, ability, age, resources, strength, backups, and first aid teams…so this is OK. “Offensive” strategy football is OK.

“Offensive” strategy is not OK in relationships, at home, at school, at work etc. Bullies live their lives offensively, by being…“Offensive.”

“B…S,” Blaming and Shaming others becomes a habit. It’s an attempt to steal the joy and hope of others while hiding one’s own fear of exposed shame or inadequacy. Making others feel inadequate, hopeless, or unlovable is a way of crushing their spirit, and controlling them. Of the feelings related to high self-esteem, “lovability” is the most basic. When a child feels “unlovable,” regardless of how competent he may become, he still feels inadequate. It only takes a little kindness, a little love, to make an unforgettable positive difference in someone’s life.

“The best portions of a good man’s life are his little nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”

- William Wordsworth


I met Bill Beacham while he and I were co-teaching a drug prevention camp. My first impression, which proved to be accurate after spending time with him, was that he is a gentle man, very kind, yet dynamic, strong and purposeful. Bill has conducted workshops for a former President, the White House staff, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Olympic athletes. He has also co-written and contributed to several books. Bill has generously given me permission to reprint some of his materials. I highly recommend Bill and his work.

How To Make Feedback More Helpful

When you are trying to tell a person something, remember that your information is more helpful if it:

  • Is specific rather than general. It is better to say “It bothers me when you talk behind people’s backs like you did to Tom yesterday,” rather than, “You are a lying, back-stabbing nerd!”
  • Focuses on a person’s behavior rather than the person. For instance, it is better to say “This session, you have talked more than anyone else in the meeting,” rather than “You are a real loudmouth, you know that?”
  • Is aimed at helping the receiver of the information make changes, not at simply making you feel better
  • Involves only the amount of information the receiver can use, rather than the amount you want to give
  • Is concerned with behavior that the receiver can do something about. To tell a person “Your eyes give me the creeps” will simply make the person feel bad; it is not a suggestion about something he can change.
  • Involves the sharing of ideas, feelings, or information, rather than just giving the person advice
  • Is current and timely. Information about something someone did three or four sessions ago is not as helpful as information about very recent behavior
  • Is information that a person has asked to hear, rather than information you simply want to give
  • Focuses on your feelings. For instance, you would say, “When you talk to me like that, I really feel hurt and intimidated,” rather than, “Only a macho ape talks to people like that!”
  • Allows the receiver and you a chance to clarify the communication with each other and with the rest of the class

- Bill Beacham, Psychologist, Founder & Executive Director of the Center for Drug-Free Communities
U.S. Olympic Training Center Consultant; Co-author of "What Did You Learn In School Today?"

Appreciation Skills – Giving and Receiving a Compliment

Children love learning to give and receive complements. They have so much fun with it! For days afterward the children may seek you out and give you compliments. They will want to show you how well they have learned these skills. They are looking forward to positive reactions.

Talking about feelings, openly showing appreciation, and giving compliments, were skills I had to force myself to learn and practice. They didn’t come easily. I was uncomfortable about giving or receiving compliments.

My friend Alice died of cancer, leaving her three young children and her husband Michael. I was even more devastated because, even though I knew she was dying, even with all the hours I spent at her side, I had never told her how much she meant to me, or thanked her for being a blessing in my life. I had never said the words “I love you.” She and I had never discussed her dying or what emptiness she would leave behind. We talked about a lot of other things. I was busy being superficial and pretending not to feel what I felt.

Standing together at her graveside, her husband and I held each other and cried.  I told him my deep regrets…how I wished I could have her back, if only for a few moments, so I could tell her how I really felt about her. Her husband Michael, a burly, expressive Irishman, said, “Take the love you have for Alice, take the words, take the kindness and give them to everyone you can. Don’t hold back. Don’t wait for a better time. Do it for the people in your life. Do it for yourself.” 

That was many years ago. One of the things I like about myself now is my ability to tell others how I feel about them. Even my dogs regularly hear “I love you.” It feels good.

The skill of appreciation, of giving and receiving sincere compliments is a delightful tool. It is a key that opens the door so caring can flow both ways.

“Practice the Golden Rule…live by it. Remember, every person you meet is fighting a hundred battles at once. Be kind. Be appreciative. It’s easy.”

- Steve

Open appreciation enhances the self-esteem and confidence of both the giver and the receiver.  Compliments and other forms of positive feedback allow and support children to discover the wonder of who they are. They begin to appreciate themselves more. Dr. Thomas Gordon teaches “I-Messages” in his many books and classes, including Parent Effectiveness Training, and Leader Effectiveness Training. A compliment begins with an “I-message.”

“’I-messages,’ help a child to grow and help him assume responsibility for his own behavior. Because ‘I-messages’ are honest, they tend to influence a child to send similar honest messages whenever he has a feeling. ‘I-messages’ from one person in a relationship promote ‘I-messages’ from the other. This is why, in deteriorating relationships, conflict often degenerates into mutual name-calling and reciprocal blaming.”

- Dr. Thomas Gordon
Parent Effectiveness Training

Compliments are Specific, Truthful, Sincere, and Enthusiastic

Inspired by their love for children and their sincere desire to create a positive influence, Peggy Bielen and Sandy McDaniel co-authored Project Self Esteem (P.S.E.). They developed a remarkable international Parent Volunteer Program. Their dedicated work in the classrooms has made a tremendous impact on children throughout the world. They teach that a compliment must be specific, and true.

“My five-year old daughter and her little friend Gita burst into the room while I was changing clothes. Gita stopped abruptly and looked at me. Her face became radiant and with a big smile, she said, ‘Wow! You wear the same kind of underwear as my Mom! You know, the kind you tuck under your tummy! I like those kind! Cool! You and my Mom have matching underwear.’ Then, laughing, the two little girls raced out of the room. I called her mom and we laughed and laughed…then we went on a diet together.”

That compliment was definitely specific, truthful, sincere, and enthusiastic!


We work with four specific skills for compliments:

 1.   We learn to look for and recognize the positive qualities in others. We always find something about every person to compliment. No one needs to be perfect to deserve a compliment.

2.   We choose something specific.

3.   We choose something we can complement sincerely. We don’t praise or compliment falsely, without meaning it.

4.   We learn to accept a compliment graciously, with a “thank you.”

“A compliment needs to be immediate. An instant reward is the most effective. The longer you wait before the positive feedback, the less effective the compliment will be. The less it will mean to a child. We need to give them something tangible, something they can carry with them and remember. When we delay feedback, it invalidates them.”

- Trigg Minic
School Psychologist, Kentucky

Again, the skill of appreciation, of giving and receiving sincere compliments and positive feedback are delightful tools.

Children are naturally appreciative and supportive. One day, my son (age 9) was standing beside me as I monitored my “Parent Effectiveness Training” answer-phone. A lady said that she had found my name and phone number in the Yellow Pages and wanted to take the class. My son stepped back, wide-eyed and adoring, and said, “Wow! Oh mom! You made it! You’re in the Yellow Pages! He thought the Yellow Pages were the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. When I stopped laughing and hugging him, I explained about the Yellow Pages.

Excerpt from Bully Prevention Character Development Program © – Dianna L. Pappas-Marchese