“Why should I praise, compliment kids or students for things they should be doing anyway?”

My experience is that when someone says that or asks that, they—themselves—are feeling terribly un-praised and under appreciated for what they do in life.   The comment really means, “I am unappreciated, so why should I appreciate others?”

I don’t attack people for this blinded comment about themselves, nor do I try to argue back from the mountains of evidence showing that all living humans need this. The comment arises from a wound, and the wound needs a healing. How can one do that? Here are two examples:

I’ve modeled for PAX Partner Coaches (people who help implement the PAX Good Behavior Game (www.GoodBehaviorGame.org), Principals, and others to go into a classroom and ask the teacher or staff member to sit on a chair in the center of the room. Then, I ask the students if they like tattles. “Nooooooooo,” is shouted answer from the students. I ask the teacher by name, “Do you like tattles, Ms/Mr __?” The answer is obviously, “No.”

Then, I turn to the class and ask: “Who knows what the opposite is of a tattle?” Unless the kids have already taught, they answer typically: “Not tattling.”

So I explain, “That is not the opposite of tattling; it is the absence of tattling. The real opposite is tootling. To tootle is to see, hear, feel and notice the good that someone else does and tell them in spoken words and, even better in writing, on a Tootle Note.”

So then, I have the students practice tootling with the teacher. I ask them to put on their PAX Thinking Caps, and to think about something PAX or good that Ms/Mr ____ did today, yesterday or last week. Then, raise their hand for permission to tootle their teacher with this sentence stem: “Ms/Mr ________ I want to tootle you for _________.”

The students will be eager to respond. After a few minutes, most adults start to choke up, often with tears streaming. The students are very good at noticing the good, yet they have never been given a chance or ritual to do so.

The same is true of as modern adults. We have no ritual in the modern world for this, which is why we introduced Tootle Notes™ in schools and other settings. The unique word really helps. When students start to write Tootle Notes to each other, all sorts of magic starts to happen. Indeed, in our published randomized trials, this practice of written praise notes for doing good had large effects on positive health, increased prosocial behavior and school engagement, reduction in aggression, and reduction of fighting injuries [1-3].

Now after the little visit to the classroom, suddenly teachers want students to start writing Tootle Notes to each other, adults at home, staff at school and the teacher, too!

Another way is to simply ask the person what they would like to be appreciated for in their life, perhaps has not be notice by others at home, at work, at school, etc. After hearing the response, find a way to tootle (praise) the person for that spiritual hole to be filled.

And you might consider downloading, sharing and showing this wonderful six-minute TED video: http://bit.ly/evokingthanks

References Utilized and Cited

  1. Embry DD, Flannery DJ, Vazsonyi AT, Powell KE, Atha H: PeaceBuilders: A theoretically driven, school-based model for early violence preventionAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine 1996, 12(5, Suppl):91.
  2. Krug EG, Brener ND, Dahlberg LL, Ryan GW, Powell KE: The impact of an elementary school-based violence prevention program on visits to the school nurseAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine 1997, 13(6):459-463.
  3. Flannery DJ, Vazsonyi AT, Liau AK, Guo S, Powell KE, Atha H, Vesterdal W, Embry DD: Initial behavior outcomes for the PeaceBuilders universal school-based violence prevention program.Developmental Psychology 2003, 39(2):292-308.


About Dennis Embry

Since 1979, Dennis D. Embry, now president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, AZ, has been designing, testing and disseminating interventions that prevent or reduce the risk from mental, emotional and behavioral disorders among children and youth in the United States and other countries. All of these interventions have dealt with a variety of troubling problems: issues of inattentive, disturbing, disruptive or impulsive behaviors, military deployments, or the effects of such behaviors (e.g., injuries, substance abuse, tobacco use, school failure, child maltreatment). Since the late 1990s, Dr. Embry’s papers and projects have integrated behavioral science, brain science and evolutionary theory to create effective practices and policies, particularly testing large-scale strategies for prevention. He is one of the few prevention scientists in the world to have conducted multiple population-level prevention efforts for communities, counties, states/provinces, tribes, or nations. For example, one of Dr. Embry’s NREPP cited efforts (Reward & Reminder) is the only scientifically proven environmental policy documented to produced state level prevention effects using a controlled study across multiple states. In the 1990s, he developed the largest youth violence prevention study in the US, called PeaceBuilders, with an implementation in more than 80 schools in Tucson with an embedded randomized-control trial and a community-wide social marketing campaign. In the early 1990s, Secretary of Defense hired Dr. Embry to recommend and implement protocols to help children and families of deployed military during the Gulf War and the efforts in Somalia, and to prevent or reduce trauma effects. In the 1980s, Dr. Embry worked with Sesame Street and, later, the Government of New Zealand on the first scientifically proven strategies to prevent one of the leading causes of death to preschool age children: being struck by a car while playing outside. Today, Dr. Embry and his colleagues at PAXIS Institute: 1) deliver prevention services all over the country and help private and public entities set up prevention services, 2) teach public and private entities how to improve the quality of those services and measures results, 3) promote prevention strategies for the large and small business in communities, and 4) develop and map prevention to multiple systems in the public and private sectors internationally. Dr. Embry and his colleagues are also technical assistance and training providers for 38 SAMHSA sites using the PAX Good Behavior Game. Dr. Embry’s work is being widely implemented in the United States, Canada, First Nations (Native American Tribes) with new projects beginning in Ireland, Estonia, New Zealand and Australia.

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