Welcome to the Prevention Quick Guide of the The Parent’s Toolshop® Guidebook! 

Prevent Problems from starting or worsening … with the Prevention Toolbox: Self-Esteem Toolset

If you are like most parents, you’d rather prevent problems than have to go around catching and fixing them.  That’s why the first step in the PASRR formula you learned in the last lesson is to “Prevent problems from starting or worsening.”

There are three Toolsets in The Prevention Toolbox: Self-Esteem , Cooperation and Independence. Within each, there are dozens of techniques to help you prevent problems from starting or worsening. So the next 7 lessons will teach you some of these practical language and action skills.

This lesson focuses on The Self-Esteem Toolset, which has 28 practical tools for preventing discouragement, which is the root cause of most misbehavior. The basic skill all parents need to know and use from this toolset is how to use descriptive language to notice positive behavior and stimulate internal motivation.

What Is Self-Esteem, Really?

First, there are three key definitions you must know before discussing the issue of self-esteem:

  1. “Self-esteem” is how you feel about your inside qualities, your worth as a human being, as you judge it.
  2. “Self-image” is how you think you appear to others on the outside, including whether you think you are “popular,” “pretty,” or “smart,” based on others’ judgments.
  3. “Ego-esteem” is thinking one is (or is trying to be) better than others. It’s a self-centered insecurity people cope with by building themselves up and putting down others.

It’s important to understand what “self-esteem” really is, as many experts give inaccurate, confusing advice that can lead you astray. For instance, a research study on bullies that said, “bullies are psychologically strong…don’t show signs of depression or social anxiety and they don’t feel lonely…We hope that these findings help us dispel the myth that bullies suffer from low self-esteem.” Does your common sense scream, “This can’t be right”? That’s because it isn’t! Such findings only show that these “experts” are confusing ego-esteem with the correct definition of “self-esteem.”

Similarly, there are two techniques parents are often told to use to develop their child’s self-esteem.

Many experts tell parents to build children’s self-esteem by using “praise,” which uses judging labels that focus on pleasing others. For example, “You did a good job,” “You make me happy,” “I’m so proud of you,” “You are smart,” “You’re so pretty,” etc.

In praise, the parent judges whether the child is any of these things — so children learn to look to others for approval. Children can only get praise for doing a “good job” if they actually do something “good.” These factors show that praise builds self-image. If parents compare the child, saying the child is better than others or never addresses the negative aspects of a child’s performance, it builds ego-esteem.

Parents can build self-esteem by using “encouragement,” which uses descriptive words that foster internal evaluation. For example, “I noticed you sorted and washed the laundry by yourself — without being asked! That really helped.” Encouragement allows the receiver to judge their own work and the descriptions give them guidelines for setting standards and self-evaluating their work in the future.

Research you may be more familiar backs this up. In the book, Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Perryman have a chapter called, “The Inverse Power of Praise.” In it, they explain research projects that found that when parents told their children they were “smart,” which is an inborn trait children can’t control, the children actually tended to have poorer school performance. If parents acknowledged the child’s effort and improvement, which is encouragement instead of praise, about something the child could control, the children tended to score better grades in school. See how that fits the differences and outcomes of praise versus encouragement?

Use these definitions and guidelines to weed out inaccurate advice and avoid the pitfalls of praise and ego-esteem. Listen to the session from the Lunch & Learn audio series called, “Nutritious Appetizers That Boost Self-esteem and Avoid Obese Egosto get more details about how to use descriptive encouragement and other tools that build self esteem without boosting big egos.

The Five-Star Tool for Building Self-Esteem: D.I.P.

The first of five five-star tools (starstarstarstarstar) you’ll learn and need to use and master to get maximum results takes the first letter of the three parts of encouragement and creates a reminder about how to to build self-esteem in children. Just “give them a D.I.P. a day!”

  1. Describe what the child did, any effort, improvement or steps taken.
  2. Focus on the Internal qualities they showed or the benefits they or others gained.
  3. Focus on the Positive aspects of what they did. Then decide if it’s necessary to point out shortcomings now.

When I first learned about the difference between praise and encouragement, I had a hard time believing it would make that much difference or that praise was “bad.” (It is still positive, just not as effective at fostering self-esteem as encouragement.)

Yet, I trusted the research, so I practiced using it and paid attention to my children’s faces, reactions, and comments about themselves. There were three defining moments that convinced me that D.I.P. was the way to go:

1. When my son was about four-years-old, he and his best friend took swimming lessons. After many weeks, they finally swam across the width of the pool. I tried to use encouragement and my son was beaming with pride and accomplishment. So was his friend, as he climbed out of the pool — until his mom excitedly said, “I’m so proud of you!” In an instant, I saw with my own eyes his smile fall and disappointment fall over his face, as though she had just taken something from him.

2. When my son won the fourth-grade school Olympics in track, breaking the school record for the mile, I was so excited! I described what I saw him do, but as soon as I said “you are so fast!” he got upset and started denying it, arguing that he wasn’t. I realized he felt pressured by my comment.

3.   When my daughter brought me a drawing, I was careful to describe what I saw and ask her questions about it, testing what would happen if I made no judgment at all. Afterwards, she skipped out of the room and I heard hear singing to herself, “I’m a good artist, I’m a good artist!”

Don’t just take my word for this — or anything I tell you! Try it, whatever the tool is, consistently for 30 days. Observe the reactions you get when you do or don’t use the new tool. With D.I.P., watch your child’s face, eyes, listen to what they say to themselves and others. See if they are dependent on other people’s opinions or feel confident in their own. This is the evidence you want to look for, to decide for yourself if you want to use D.I.P. or any other tool I recommend.

How do you encourage children who do an imperfect job? Give Them a “D.I.P. Sandwich.”

Parents often ask me, “How can I give encouragement when my child does something wrong?” The most common tool parents use is constructive criticism, but if you think about it, that’s a contradictory term: constructive means to build up and criticism tears down. It sounds like this, “You did a good job, but ____.” Instead of getting the benefit of the encouragement, which promotes self-motivation, the child put up defenses to prepare for the criticism. When reminded of their mistakes, children don’t feel like improving. They just feel more discouraged and resentful.

Instead, use the following 1-2-3 response, which builds on D.I.P., so I call it A D.I.P. Sandwich.

1.    Start with encouragement, using D.I.P. to describe what the child did well. Avoid the words right and wrong, good and bad. Use words like more effective, less effective, helpful, and unhelpful.

2.    Pause…to allow children to experience the good feelings of accomplishment. Decide how important it is to point out the negative now.

a.      If children know how to do the task but didn’t do it well, notice their efforts and any progress they made. Reassure them that they’ll continue improving with practice.

b.      If they don’t know how to do the task well or lack information, wait to teach another time (if you can). It could be in a minute, an hour, a day or a week. The key is that there is a pause between the positive comment and the lesson to improve.

3.    Use questions instead of pointing out the imperfection.

a.     With older children, ask how they feel about their work. If they are dissatisfied, ask them what they would do differently or to improve. Show faith in their ability to figure out a way to do their best.

b.    With younger children, ask them to show you how they did it. Ask if you can show how you do it — on yourself, not for them or on them.

Usually, it’s fine to let children enjoy their good feelings and address imperfections later. Because children feel encouraged, they are more willing to notice areas for improvement on their own. When you do address them, us a question that has children identify for themselves areas to improve.

For example,

“Thanks for doing a load of laundry! That was really helpful.”

(Pause a few seconds while moving a load of laundry. Then…)

“Uh-oh! Looks like one black sock was hiding in the whites and stained them. …pause… What can you do next time to prevent that? … pause for response … Do you know how to get the stains out? I’d be willing to show you.”

Remember, D.I.P. is just one tool in the Self-Esteem Toolset! This toolset also has tools that can help prevent sibling conflicts and rivalry; the “it isn’t fair,” “he got more” and “who do you love more” games; bullies, victims and other roles and labels…and more! Once you learn and use all the tools in the Self-Esteem Toolset, you will:

  • Avoid accidentally discouraging or pressuring children when you are trying to praise them. (Ever have someone argue with your compliment?)
  • Have children who feel good about themselves, their inner qualities, talents and skills, rather than focusing on pleasing others.
  • Have children who tell themselves they did a “good” job, instead of being “praise junkies” who need constant praise, reassurance and attention to feel validated.
  • Have children who have a strong sense of self-worth, but are not egotistical or conceited (which are signs of insecurity).
  • Start noticing more of your child’s good qualities and positive behavior — and because you notice, the children show those positive qualities and behavior more often!
  • Have children who trust their own judgment, make responsible decisions and avoid becoming people-pleasers who “follow the crowd.” They don’t give in to negative peer pressure, especially as teens.
  • Have children who misbehave less, because discouragement is the root of misbehavior and your children will feel encouraged.
  • Become more encouraging and positive, in general, so everyone around you starts to blossom!
  • Be confident, genuine and sincere when giving encouragement, which boosts your child’s confidence!
  • Give and get more unconditional love, which will increase your self-esteem and others’.
  • Have children who feel important, special and unique. They won’t worry about having to have everything “equal” or “fair.”
  • Have children who feel capable. They give themselves credit for their strengths, talents and accomplishments, without being boastful.
  • Have children who reach out and do things for others, just because it feels good to be nice and not just to get some payment or reward.
  • Have children who recognize and accept responsibility for their mistakes, instead of denying them or making excuses. Their mistakes do not derail or sidetrack them, because they view mistakes as opportunities to learn, instead of signs of failure.
  • Have children who are free of labels and roles and are becoming the whole person they are capable of being.
  • Have children who get along with their siblings, because you know how to prevent and stop sibling rivalry.
  • Have children who give their all and do their best to be good team players, without cut-throat competitiveness that destroys teamwork, relationships and other people’s self-esteem.
  • Have children who have the courage to try harder and not give up. They get up when they fall (literally and figuratively).


  1. If you are not crystal clear about using encouragement instead of praise, listen to the 8-03-2011 Gold Call discussion we had about this topic  (even if you are not a Gold Member).
  2. Practice changing the following “praise” or discouraging statements to “encouraging” statements. You can share your answers in the comments section.

a.  “I’m so proud of you!”

b.  “I like how you fixed your hair.”

c.  “Your room finally looks clean.”

d.  “See what you can do if you try?”

e.  “You cleaned your room even better than your brother.”


Become a Parent Success Club Member, if you haven’t already, so you can join the weekly webinar/call to get support in understanding and applying the Prevention Toolbox to your parenting and unique family situations.  By participating in the Parent Success Club Membership calls, you will:

  • Get your questions answered.
  • Be inspired by hearing how others are doing as they share their questions and successes.
  • Get even clearer on how the Universal Blueprint® can support you in parenting more easily.
  • Receive personalized problem-solving with group support from other parents and certified Parents Toolshop® Leaders.
  • Hear ideas and get resources that have helped other parents.