Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

- Shakespeare

Challenges and Choices

Children today face challenges that are unique in history. Never have there been so many possibilities and opportunities, yet at the same time, never has there been such an elaborate array of negative influences. Children are faced with the breakdown of the family structure, if not their own family, they see it all around them. They are bombarded with the breakdown of morality and value systems. They have “entertainment” and the media bringing the violence and the fear of society into their homes and into their lives via movies, TV and music. It’s confusing for them. Each way they turn they learn a different story and see different qualities being modeled.

For the most part, their life choices are going to be based on their interpretation of what life presents to them. Their interpretation of their circumstances is dramatically influenced by our interpretation of them and by our reinforcement of who we think they are.

Give children a good reputation to live up to, and they will.

My daughter’s 2nd grade teacher had an outstanding quality that I’ve rarely seen used so effectively and consistently. When I first met Mrs. Bear, my impression was that she was young, sweet and at the same time proper and strict. I was reminded of someone who might teach in a private school in London. Being rather homespun and casual myself, I wondered how my daughter would respond to her teacher’s strong expectations and structure. Wow! My daughter loved her! She did extra homework, and couldn’t wait to see Mrs. Bear each morning.

When I gathered my children from school in the afternoon, mine was one of the children always crowding around the teacher trying to hold her hand and talk to her. One of the techniques Mrs. Bear used was what Dale Carnegie called “giving a man a good reputation to live up to.” Mrs. Bear could gain silence and control of thirty children almost instantaneously with her habit of positive reinforcement. She would get a certain look on her face of delight, surprise and wonder, then give all of her attention and praise to a child who was doing something right. “Wow! Look at Jasmine working so hard and so quietly!” Immediately, a chain reaction followed around the room with all of the children emulating the child who had captured the teacher’s attention. She had the gift of being able to interpret and draw out the best in each child.

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.

- Confucius

In The One Minute Mother, Spencer Johnson emphasizes catching children doing something right, as a tool to help them achieve their full potential. (Great book)

Give Children a Bad Reputation to Live Up To, and They Will

Sometimes adults set up destructive cycles of negative reinforcement that destroy the attitude of a child. This is accomplished by repeatedly catching children doing something wrong. Sometimes a child is even given a humorous or derogatory nickname, “Stinky,” “Chatterbox,” “Lazy” or “Bigmouth.” When an adult gives a child a negative label, nickname, or reputation, not only does that child get attention for the identity, he sometimes feels a need to act it out as well.

Our labels can become their prison or their wings.

I’ve been very fortunate that my children have had outstanding teachers each year. My only negative experience was a six-week summer math program. I participated in the program as a parent volunteer assistant. On the first day of the class there were two boys (out of a class of thirty) who were showing off, talking and disrupting the class. The teacher immediately gave them nicknames, sat them at the front of the room and made them the center of attention by repeating their nicknames and making jokes about them. They loved the attention! The teacher gave no attention to the children who were behaving correctly. By the end of the first class it was a disaster. One by one, several of the other children began to misbehave because they wanted a “funny” nickname, too. They wanted to stand or sit up front.

The serious students, the quiet students, were lost in the haze of a teacher who became increasingly frustrated, loud, threatening and angry. The children were increasingly out of control. His method of controlling a classroom was power, humiliation and threats. By the end of the second class, many of the students had negative labels and nicknames, and several parents withdrew their children from the class, myself included.

One of my favorite books is, Your Child’s Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs. She talks about negative judgments, and making the adult a negative mirror for children. She calls negative judgments the core of emotional disorder and low self-esteem.

When we believe in children, they begin to believe in themselves. When we are working with ‘at-risk’ children who are in a difficult situation, we let them know it’s not their fault. We help children discover and decide how to cope with that environment or situation. We try to teach children to deal with life, on life’s terms. Make them aware of choices. They can choose their attitudes and beliefs about what life is, and what it can be.

- Bill Beacham, Psychologist
Consultant to the U.S. Olympic Training Center

The basis of teaching children to have a positive outlook is our own compassion, patience, and our ability to focus on a child’s strong points.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.

- Emerson

Choices…Choose the Angle From Which To View a Situation

With this lesson, the goal is to give children the understanding that they can choose or adjust their “point of view.” We each tend to see the world from our own point of view. None of us sees it totally “as it is.” We don’t all notice the same thing or experience it the same way. For example, none of us sees a flower garden in the same way. One of us may see the yellow daisies, one of us may see the weeds, and one of us may see the roses. Small children usually notice the spiders, snails and butterflies. Our attitude and interpretation of ourselves, or a situation, can make the difference between happiness and misery.

Ten artists painting the same garden at the same moment would create 10 different worlds, with 10 different angles, 10 different attitudes, and 10 different interpretations.

While walking through a shopping center with my cheerful 9 year-old daughter, and her friend, they stopped abruptly, squealing, “Wow! Look at that! Cool!” We were standing outside the display window of a fabric store. I assumed they were commenting on the bright flowered rolls of fabric, so I said, “They’re such beautiful colors.” My daughter wrinkled her nose, looked at me and said, “Mom, they’re all black!”

Their choice of what to see was different than mine. They were leaning near the window, fascinated by dozens of dead flies and spiders trapped between the window and the wall. We were viewing the same situation from a different point of view.

We see and respond to the world based upon who we are inside and how we feel at that moment.  Feelings change, our physiology changes, and moods change, our self-esteem varies, so most of us don’t have a consistent viewpoint of life or of the people we interact with. A simple thing like a good night’s sleep, stress management, quiet time each day, or what we’ve been eating, can totally change our point of view.

My son, then four-years old, and his friends were playing in the yard. His friends were complaining about the windy day, and the leaves blowing down. The strong Santa Anna winds were blowing in from the orange groves which were blooming. My son was standing facing the wind. His arms stretched upward, he was smiling joyously, and taking big breaths. He looked over at me and said, “Mom, you smell good, just like the wind!” The other kids stopped complaining as they watched him enjoying the wind.

It doesn’t take much to shift the attention, attitude, or point of focus of a group of children. The complaints stopped. All of the children began standing with their arms stretched up, smelling the wind as it blew their hair back away from their faces. It then became a contest to express who was smelling the orange blossoms, the sweet wind, and the most.

Choose to Respect Each Other’s Differences

A person with high self-esteem can consider other opinions and other points of view without feeling afraid or threatened. They can look at the world through the other person’s eyes, walk in the other person’s shoes and see from the other person’s point of view. They can consider various options with a broader perspective and common sense. With high self-esteem we respect each others differences, rather than be fearful or hostile to someone who is different. When established on the level of personal inner strength and stability, we don’t need to put each other down.

- Usha Delorme, M.S.W.
Las Vegas, Nevada

The tool of readjusting our attitude and re-evaluating our interpretation is essential. At first this can be a conscious effort, and with practice it becomes a habit. This is especially important for “at-risk” children. Many times one of the only things they may appear to have control over in their lives is their attitude and interpretation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Sometimes when I’m working with a child who is acting out, or displaying a negative or a depressed attitude, I realize that I am having feelings that I don’t like. At that point, I have to do something about how I feel. I have to change my attitude before I can help the child to change theirs. My attitude has to be straight and clear. We can’t teach something we are not being. The biggest way for me to help a child to change his attitude is for me to see the beauty, the creativity, the intelligence and the potential of that child.

- Lorraine Cook - Ashland, Oregon
Keynote Motivational and Inspirational Speaker, Teacher, Administrator


Wallapa is an amazingly strong, positive woman. She grew up in Thailand, where she now teaches at the University in Bangkok. She and I became friends when we each lived in California. She taught me to cook Thai food and to appreciate and understand the Thai culture and values. She has added great depth and joy to my life. Whenever a challenge of any dimension came along, she always said, “You and I can over-rise it! Just over-rise it.” Thinking the words “Over-rise” must be Thai or a Thai concept, I finally asked her “What is the word Over-rise?” Wallapa laughed her contagious, soul-deep laugh, and said that she had made up the word because she liked the idea of it. It means rise above it and get over it…over-rise. (An interesting attitude shift)

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