A couple of weeks ago, I was at a local restaurant for dinner. While talking to my friend, I noticed a toddler at the next table. We made eye contact several times. I smiled and the child smiled back. It wasn't long before I was making faces and playing peek-a-boo with him which made him laugh. My interacting with this pint-sized person amused both of us. When I got up to pay for the dinner, I said to the father that his little boy was cute. It was then that I noticed the toddler's older sister who was probably five years old. Not wanting to leave her out of the compliments, I said, "And your daughter is pretty." That was all that was said. When I came back to get ready to leave, my friend told me what was said while I was gone. The little girl said to her father proudly, "That man said that I was pretty."

Her statement struck me as strange. Why did she tell her father something that everyone around our two tables clearly heard me say to her? Was she starved for attention? Was the father indifferent to her needs? I don't know. What I knew was that her statement troubled me. I told my friend that when we got up to leave that I would say to my friend, "There's the pretty girl that I told you about." In a stage whisper so that the little girl could clearly hear her, my friend said, "You're right, she really is very pretty!"

As we left the restaurant, I wondered out loud how many little boys and girls go through their lives without the necessary strokes and compliments needed for emotional health. How many little ones are starved for attention? Beyond that, aren't most of us really just little kids at heart without all the necessary strokes needed for survival in our world? Here are some ways to reduce the number of people in the world without very positive ideas about themselves.

1. Become a giver of strokes. Be honest with what you say, but don't assume that people know what you admire about them. The little girl in the restaurant was unaware of how I saw her. Therefore, if you feel good about what someone did or who they are, tell them. It doesn't have to be a formal declaration. It will be heard more clearly and believed more readily if you just state the way you feel. Make sure the person registers your compliment and go on with whatever you have to do.

2. Offer to help someone in improving upon his or her strengths or reducing the negative effect of possible shortcomings. Volunteer your help. If the person wants your help, you will be able to tactfully guide the person toward a more positive behavior by reducing things that detract from the positive nature of the person.

3. Compliment yourself. Take a personal inventory of your life. What do you like about yourself? Make a list of the things you feel good about. Next, put that list someplace that you will see it often during the day. You won't be able to share good feelings about another if you don't already feel good about yourself.

4. Make a list of things that aren't complimentary about you. You will be able to like yourself even more by improving upon those areas of your life that aren't as complimentary as the items on your positive list. Next, work on resolving these personality issues. If you are a procrastinator, organize your time and work on task-completion. If you need to deal with your anger, read up on anger management techniques. In doing so, you will increase the positive aspects of your life while reducing the negative parts. This in turn will make you feel even better about yourself.

I have no idea whether my passing comment had a measurable positive effect upon life of the little girl in the restaurant. However, I do know that we all must be positive reflectors of each other's strengths since we often don't see them clearly as we ought. Do your part in helping others make the often painful and uncertain journey through life by your supportive comments.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 3/2/00.