“The Compliment Tree,” Friend, Feb. 1986, 8
“Daddy! Daddy!” Betsy shouted, bounding down the stairs two at a time with hair flying and eyes shining.
“How’s my favorite seven-year-old?” boomed Daddy in his jolly voice. “What has you all in a tizzy?”
“Guess what!” said Betsy. “Mrs. Billings, my teacher, put up a great big paper tree trunk on the wall. Every time somebody does something good and receives a compliment, he gets to put a branch with his name on it on the tree.”
“Sounds interesting,” said Daddy. “Did you get a compliment today?”
“No, but Toby did. He washed all the colored chalk off the desks. I sure hope I get a compliment tomorrow.”
At school the next day Patricia got a compliment for erasing all the chalkboards, and Matt got a compliment for doing his best writing. Betsy did not get a compliment.
The following day started out no better. When Betsy leaned back in her chair to stretch, she lost her balance and fell over with a loud crash.
At lunchtime she accidentally knocked over Ronnie’s milk, spilling it into his lap.
“I’ll never get a compliment this way,” she muttered.
At the end of the day Mrs. Billings passed out some math tests the children had done the day before.
“Boys and girls, only one person got a hundred percent on the math test. Congratulations, Betsy! Come up and get a branch to put on the Compliment Tree.”
“Oh, boy!” Betsy squealed.
After school she ran home as fast as she could, her math test clutched tightly in one fist. “Guess what, Mom! Guess what!” Betsy breathlessly poured out her good news.
“That’s great, honey!” said Mom, giving Betsy a hug. “I’m proud of you!”
Later that evening, as Betsy gazed happily at her math test with the gold star on it, her eyes stopped at the answer to one of the problems. “Oh, no!” she gasped. “Look, Daddy! I made a mistake! See?”
“Well, it looks like you have a decision to make, Betsy,” said Daddy.
“But I don’t want to lose my compliment!” Betsy wailed.
“You’re old enough to know what’s right, Betsy,” Daddy said. He put his arm around her and added, “If I know my girl, she’ll make the right choice.”
The next day Betsy walked to school very slowly. “I wish it were Saturday,” she sighed. When she got to school, she looked for a very long time at the Compliment Tree and the branch with her name on it. Sadly, she took the branch down and walked up to the teacher’s desk.
“Mrs. Billings,” she whispered.
“What is it, Betsy?” asked Mrs. Billings.
“Well … I mean … well …” Betsy gulped, took a deep breath, and blurted out the whole story. “Here,” she said, and she placed the branch on Mrs. Billings’s desk.
“Thank you, Betsy,” Mrs. Billings said.
At the end of the day, Mrs. Billings rose from her desk. “I have an announcement to make,” she began.
The children sat up straight in their chairs and waited expectantly—all except Betsy, who was too sad to want to hear who received a branch for the Compliment Tree that day.
But suddenly she realized that Mrs. Billings was talking about her!
“… and Betsy has earned two compliments today: one for finding a mistake that I missed on her math test, and one for having the courage to point it out to me. Betsy, come up and choose two branches. You may place them anywhere you wish on the tree.”
As Betsy went up to choose her two branches, she thought happily, Yesterday morning I had no compliments, and now I have two!