"Care about Others."


Defined: Not to use words, actions, and/or body language to degrade, humiliate, or dishonor others

What Are Put-Downs?

Put-downs are words--words that imply, "I am better than you. I have more money than you, I am smarter than you, or I have more options than you." The objective is to raise the speaker's status, to show that he/she/has more power and higher social standing, and/or to control the behavior of others. The speaker often seeks to undermine relationships by strengthening his/her position, to avoid the real issues, and to promote him/herself by creating a laugh at someone else's expense. Whether from one person or a group, the goal of put-downs is always the same--humiliate and gain power and social status.

Put-downs can also be conveyed by actions and body movements, such as rolling the eyes, tapping the forehead, caricaturing, and so forth. Whether words or actions, the contempt, scorn, and disdain are clear.

Sometimes put-downs affects us more deeply than usual. For example, when they're spoken by people we like and trust, or by people whom we want to like us, the results are devastating. We feel betrayed. Also, students under stress are very vulnerable to the sting of these put-downs. If the comments are aimed at a sensitive area (e.g., physical changes during puberty, being over or under weight, being an immigrant with beginning English skills, and so forth), children often feel shame about something over which they have little or no control. Similarly, when put-down in front of our peers, the humiliation and shame deepen as we lose face.

Nasty, degrading comments, usually meant to pass as humor, are a form of power play, where one person is trying to gain control over others and/or the situation. They also mask unconscious feelings of jealousy, anger, fear, or inadequacy. Many students look on this type of word play as a form of humor overlooking that it's at the expense of others.

Why Practice No Put-Downs?

To be open to learning is to be vulnerable. We're open to snickers when we make mistakes or admit we can't answer the question. Every student should be able to approach new opportunities and learning experiences without dreading verbal abuse.

When we refuse to allow put-downs in the classroom or home, we're teaching respect for all people, ideas, and situations. We're building a positive emotional climate in our classrooms so that students feel comfortable enough to risk an answer, offer a thought, and try some new skill without worrying about mocking remarks. Prohibiting the use of disparaging remarks is akin to constructing an invisible shield that protects the neophyte learner.

How Can You Practice No Put-Downs?

To change a negative habit to a more positive one, we first must recognize the negative behavior that needs to change. Next, we must create an action plan to eliminate put-downs and encourage respect for others and things.


Use active listening skills to focus on comments heard around the classroom, central areas, and playground. Observe the participants. Who is putting others down? Who is being put-down? Who has power and social position and who doesn't? What's missing from your classroom? Look for patterns that demand change and then, with the students, create an action plan.

Creating an environment free of put-downs requires constant modeling by adults. The entire school staff (administrators, teachers, aides, custodial workers, cafeteria staff, parent volunteers) need to understand their positions as role models for the students. It cannot be a "do as I say but not as I do" atmosphere. Everyone in the building plays a part in changing the negative atmosphere. Initiate discussions about the harmful effects of put-downs. If a put-down is heard, deal with it immediately using a calm, rational manner before the situation escalates.

To cleanse the school of put-downs, eliminate the put-down banter that is passed off as humor. Recall the colleagues comment that had dual interpretations and then he/she quickly said, "Just kidding!"--but you never knew the intent for sure. There is that adage, "Many a true word is said in jest." Put-downs among the staff produce a lack of trust which is extremely detrimental to an educational agency, especially when it trickles down to influence students' attitudes and behaviors. Practicing the Lifelong Guideline of No Put-Downs requires a concerned effort from all members of the school community or the realization of a caring, risk-taking, nurturing, fellowship of learners has little chance for success.

The above excerpt comes from Sue Pearson's Tools for Citizenship & Life: Using the ITI Lifelong Guidelines & Lifeskills in Your Classroom (2000), pp. 7.1-7.3.