Emily Kantrowitz, SEL Program Specialist

Compliments. We give them out. We receive them. But why are they so important?

In short, compliments are nice things that we say to someone to make them feel good about themselves. When someone gives you a compliment, you feel like a million bucks. Compliments play such a vital role in our interactions with others and yet so many individuals miss out on the magic of compliments.

I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult for me to receive a compliment. I can’t count how many times someone has complimented my outfit or my hair and I return with: “Oh this old thing? No it’s not anything special!” or “Are you kidding me? I’m having a TERRIBLE hair day!” It isn’t uncommon to feel shy, embarrassed, or unsure how to react when someone compliments you, but it’s important to remember that compliments are meant to help us feel valued and cared about.

When I began working in both middle and high school classrooms this year, I was very nervous about implementing a reoccurring compliment activity with the students. I was concerned that they wouldn’t “buy in” to the idea, or that if one student was chosen and did not receive many compliments (or even received less than stellar-ones) that the project would be a complete failure. I knew that compliments would be a great way to help improve group cohesion and improve individual self-image, but would the students recognize the magic of compliments?

 

Middle School

In the middle school class that I work with, a student is randomly selected each week to receive compliments. They are then able to choose three classmates to give them compliments. During the first few weeks of doing this, I wasn’t sure that they would understand the importance of the activity. At the beginning, the compliments that were being given out were very surface level: “You are a good friend.” “You are nice to me.” “You are good at basketball.” I expected this – these students were still getting to know each other and were still learning how to express gratitude and to praise one another.

However with more and more practice (and as the students bonded), the compliments became more detailed and complex: “You encourage me to do better in class.” “If it wasn’t for you looking out for me, I would get in trouble at school.” “You always stick up for me when I need a friend.” These statements confirmed that they not only understood the importance of giving compliments, but that they were bonding with each other on a much deeper level than I had expected! Each week when a student’s name is chosen, the class breaks out into a roar of cheers and applause at the idea that they get to make their classmate feel appreciated and important.

 

High School

I wanted to try a variation of the compliments activity in the high school classes. A student is still randomly selected each week to receive compliments, but instead of choosing three classmates, the entire class has the opportunity to give them out. In order to keep the compliments anonymous and get the students up and moving, the student who is chosen heads to the back of the classroom. With their back to the white board in the front of the room, their classmates fill the empty board with compliments.

For the most part, there is an initial level of shyness that some students feel when they hear their name chosen to receive compliments, but that feeling quickly disappears once they turn around and read all of the positive comments from their classmates and friends. The high school students put so much thought and effort into praising one another (some of them even write full paragraphs on the board!) One of the unique things that I do is choose the name of the person who will be receiving compliments a week in advance. I encourage the students to try and interact with that person over the next week so that they can come up with a thoughtful and personal compliment for that person. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised with how much they look forward to lifting each other up and putting a smile on each other’s faces!

 

Watching the Magic Grow

Compliments are meant to project and reinforce a positive self-image, especially for students who exhibit behaviors consistent with a negative self-image. Every week, I look forward to facilitating an activity that encourages lifting each other up instead of putting each other down. I’m also working on my own complimenting skills (both giving and receiving!) so that I can model the behavior we want our students to exhibit. I can’t wait to watch the magic of compliments grow as the school year continues!