It’s that time of year.
Sports seasons are ending. Time to celebrate with the team and hand out the awards.
I’ve witnessed this little ritual every season since my oldest child, Molly, played her first soccer game at age four. (Okay, I’ll be honest. She played. I’m not sure that it resembled anything close to soccer.)
It’s the same every year: The kids listen as the coaches praise their effort and dedication and then hand out a trophy to every player on the team as a token reminder of the season.
Now, the first couple of seasons I’ll admit this was cute. When they were little, the kids squealed with delight at getting a “prize.” Mom and Dad beamed with pride. Awwww….
Fast-forward nine years.
Our parental reaction to seasonal trophies now: Yes, we know our child played soccer/baseball this season. We’ve spent half our lives in a car driving him or her to endless practices. We’ve bore holes through the bottoms of our collapsible chairs watching countless ballgames. But in case we somehow forget, we have this beautiful dime store trophy to remind us. Why, thank you.
The sad thing is these trophies mean even less to my children.
Kids are smart. It doesn’t take them long to catch on. Soon, it dawned on them: Every child on the team gets one of these. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s nothing special.
This doesn’t just happen on the sports field. It happens in our schools, too. I watched it in action during my son’s recent school awards assembly, where every child received a certificate.
Somehow, in a quest to boost our children’s self-esteem, we’ve shied away from recognizing ability. We’ve decided as a society, that by lauding true achievement, we will somehow forever crush the fragile spirits of the children who do not receive the same praise.
Based on my own experience as a parent and great advice I’ve read over the years, I respect-fully disagree with this approach for several reasons:
1.) It lowers self-esteem. Kids self-worth isn’t boosted by receiving undeserved praise. It increases by the recognition of their actual and true progress and ability -- especially in areas where they have failed or not performed well in the past.
2.) It breeds mistrust. If we tell them everything they do is wonderful – usually with the best of intentions – we actually often teach them to mistrust all praise. They see through it. Then, even when our praise is real and genuine, they’ve learned to dismiss it.
3.) It kills incentive. Some kids are born internally motivated (lucky parents!). But most kids need external motivation. They need something to work toward. A prize to win. We’re even like that as adults. When everyone gets the “prize,” regardless of effort and achievement, what’s the incentive to excel?
God gave each of our children a very unique combination of talents and abilities. As parents, He’s entrusted us with helping our kids cultivate those gifts.
We can’t control the society we live in, but we can control how we praise our children. I read a great article a while back called, How Not to Talk to Your Kids. It’s a bit lengthy, but definitely worth the read. I dare say it will change your whole view of how you encourage and praise your children.
In short, here's a few basic guidelines the article gives to parents:
1.) Be very specific and genuine in your praise of your child's process and progress.
2.) Recognize hard work and perseverance.
3.) Allow them to fail. We all learn more from our failures than our successes.
Not every child will grow up to be the Babe Ruth of baseball. Or the Mia Hamm of soccer.
But they are far more likely to reach their own personal potential if we respect true ability instead of manufacture hollow accolades.