Friday, February 12, 2016

The Triumphant Return Of The Compliment Chain

I've written about our "compliment chain" circle time activity before, but not for awhile. That's because we had more or less stopped doing it.

The way it works is that I'll ask, "Who wants to make a friend feel good?" hands will go up, then one by one I call on them, "Sally wants to make someone feel good. What can you do or say that will make a friend smile?" Then the child will pick a friend, go over to her, and say something like, "I like your shirt," or "I want to have a play date with you." With each "compliment" I add a link to the chain (a plastic manipulative toy we own), which we then hang from the ceiling, adding to it after each session. One year we ran through the entire box of 500 links, then continued by adding paper clips until we had encircled the entire classroom, finally running it out the door into the hallway.

It was always a popular activity, at least as popular as making rules, but a couple years a go, a few parents began to complain that it bugged them, that it was too "artificial," and I could see their point. I mean, more often than not, the children were landing on a single, generic "compliment," like "You're my best friend," then each of them would repeat it to their classmates over and over. I understood the argument that the children were just going through the motions, that what they were saying weren't actual compliments, but rather the repetition of rote lines. And in response I guess I just sort of let the compliment chain fade away, which it did as children moved on and the "institutional memory" of the compliment chain moved on with them.

Earlier this year, however, a child in our 4-5's class spontaneously offered a genuine compliment to a friend and I commented, "That's a compliment." That sparked a memory for one of the kids whose older sibling had attended our school during the compliment chain's reign, "Remember the compliment chain?" I said that I did and he asked, "Can we do it?"

We are now a couple weeks into the compliment chain's reemergence and I'm regretting having ever let it go. This year's group, perhaps because it's nearly Valentine's Day, has settled on the rote compliment, "I love you," followed by a hug. After each "compliment" I say something like, "That made your friend feel good; I can tell because he's smiling." Sometimes I'll say, "Saying nice things to other people is a super power." Yesterday, we spent ten minutes giving one another hugs and saying "I love you," followed by a timed free-for-all in which the kids gave as many "compliments" as they could in one minute. We already have over 200 links in our chain.

It may be artificial, at least to our adult perceptions, and even the smiles of the recipients are often forced, but at the same time, there is no denying that this is something the children at Woodland Park, at least, genuinely love to do. And, in all honesty, I've begun to think of it as a kind of calisthenic exercise, one designed to strengthen a specific muscle or develop a healthy habit. During the rest of the day, I listen for authentic "compliments," those every day moments when children do or saying something that makes a friend smile, then remark, "That was a compliment," or "You sure made Johnny smile," and invariably the kids will turn to me and ask, "Can we do compliments at Circle Time?"

From here on out, my answer will always be an unequivocal, "Yes."

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Stephanie Wells said...

This makes me think of the AA adage, "fake it til you make it". It's very important to sometimes do positive things even if forced in order to turn a bad mood around and it WORKS! I tried to donate to your blog by the way but link didn't work.

Anonymous said...

I remember doing this with PS classes back in the day. I love the addition of the chain! It is also a great way to teach everyone (children & adults) how to accept a compliment graciously. Something studies have shown that too many of us have a hard time doing.

Sarcasmama said...

Witnessing the kids at this, it isn't appear artificial to them. They genuinely light up when one of their friends says, "I love you" and gives them a hug. And sometimes it happens between kids that don't normally play together. It's sweet and frankly we should dwell in those sweet moments as long as we can. It helps when they act like little wretches toward each other five minutes later.

Debbie Midcalf said...

This is similar to an activity done in a Positive Disciple classroom at a class meeting. Children take turns complimenting each other in the same way and, while, yes, to adults it seems contrived, to children it's valuable. Thanks, Tom!

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