Note: I originally had this titled “Why we need to reward participation and losing.” Misnomer. I MEANT CELEBRATE participation and losing. Most of the time you don’t get a reward for losing (participation medals notwithstanding), but you should celebrate it.)
I was reminded today about how totally screwed up so many parents have become in the last few decades. And YES, I’m going to get all judgy on you guys tonight, so just deal with it. Understand that my judginess comes from a place of pain and anger.
When Daniel and I lived in North Carolina, we went to a neighborhood barbecue in our little neighborhood and met this one woman who had eight kids that she home schooled. Somehow we got onto the topic of her 6 year-old’s baseball game that she watched the evening before and how the previous year the little 5 year-olds team were given trophies for participating, even though they didn’t win a single game. She was complaining about how the league would reward failure like that. She said she actually took her son’s trophy from him and explained that he had to EARN what he won, that life wouldn’t just hand him rewards for failing. She did that… to her 5 YEAR-OLD!!!
Flash forward to this week. I got to listen to two people talking on the elevator. One of them had a son in high school on the football team. The coach was hard on the team, but according to this man, “not hard enough.” His son was, apparently, being taught that doing your best was good enough, when apparently this father didn’t agree. The man he was talking to agreed. It’s not good enough if you don’t actually win.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I deserve a medal for not saying something inappropriate. I am FIRMLY in the camp of rewarding kids for participating. I am FIRMLY in the camp of being super proud if my child does his or her best, regardless of his or her age, AND regardless of whether my child wins. WHY? Why would I “reward mediocrity” (that was what the mother with the 8 kids called it)? Why would I teach my kids that losing was okay? Because that’s NOT what rewarding a 5 year-old does. Because that trophy was rewarding that child for participating. And no, it shouldn’t be as big as the winners got, but you also shouldn’t take away something given to your child in recognition of your child’s accomplishment, and participating through an entire season in a sport is an accomplishment. Honest to GOD, participating is sooo much more important than winning. Being proud of my child for doing their best, regardless of win or lose, is rewarding that child for TRYING, and I swear to God, if you don’t teach your child that it’s okay to lose, that child will completely STOP trying for fear of FAILING!!
My theory on life: Success is made up of two things. Participation and knowing your skills. If you have skill with writing legalese and you participate, added together, then you end up being good at writing legal stuff. (my job). I can participate in singing until I’m blind, I will never succeed at it cause I sound like a cat being stepped on. And you LEARN to participate as a kid. And that’s how you find your skills. you have to, as a kid, be okay with trying new things and failing at them in order to find stuff you won’t fail at. And you aren’t going to be able to do that if every time you fail you or those around you don’t encourage you to keep going. And if that means the league gives you a participation medal, yay! If that means your mom and dad take you out to celebrate another year in the participation column, then yay. But it has to be encouraged. HAS to be supported with smiles and slaps on the back and celebration.
I know some of you don’t want to celebrate a loss with your kids, but did your kid get to swing that bat (regardless of whether it hit anything other than the umpire)? Did he or she get up and do the thing that they lost? Well celebrate that. Cause lots of parents don’t get to celebrate a loss of a game. They had to mourn the loss of their child and the possibilities that child had. So yeah, that missed hit, that missed basket, that sad looking dance. Still something to totally celebrate, and still something your child needs to be encouraged to keep trying. Cause you can’t encourage them if you are berating them. They aren’t going to look forward to the next game and the possibility of a win if they are fearing the possibility their daddy or mommy will be upset if they didn’t win.
I have gone to the funerals of a few children that will NEVER GET TO PARTICIPATE. My own child will never be able to do contact sports because of her liver damage. It aches deep in my chest when I have to tell her “No” when she asks if she can do something because she has an enlarged liver and spleen. She cannot participate in those things.
BUT She gets to participate in SOMETHING. She can swim and run and dance and sing and play music, and I will encourage her to participate in those things and be beyond proud of her for trying. Because she’s able to do so. I’m so proud that she’s not afraid of trying. I’m so proud she’s even breathing. And anyone that tries to belittle what my child DOES accomplish in this life, even if it’s “just participating,” God please grant you mercy, cause I won’t.
I nearly lost my baby. I nearly didn’t get to watch her dance so poorly on stage that it was nearly comical. But she was so proud to be up there, and I was so proud that she tried. She got her bouquet of flowers and her chocolate shake as a reward and we gushed as if she had been accepted by the NY Ballet Company. She picked on the strings of her guitar, watching her hands the whole time during her recital. But I stood up and clapped and whistled, because she was able to hold that guitar and was smiling and happy, and I have seen her in agony before. I’m so thrilled she can HAVE those moments of happy that she will ALWAYS have me smiling and clapping and super super proud of anything she accomplishes.
For those of you out there that don’t do that for your children, regardless of their age, SHAME ON YOU. There may come a day you wished you had. There may come a day you wished you had stood and clapped and contributed to your son or daughter having a glowing smile on their faces, regardless of whether they won or not. Because you are NOT guaranteed tomorrow with your child. You don’t know if they will wake up in the morning. If they will make it to school safely. You don’t know what will happen. So the very VERY least you can do is try to provide as many happy moments for your child in this life that you can. I’m not saying don’t teach them the value of success, but don’t you DARE make it seem like that’s the only thing of value. Let them know that showing up and participating is 99% of life, and that if they can consistently do that, they will succeed and you will be proud of them for it.
And hug them more. Let them know you are proud of them. If they show up and do their best, can you really ask for more? Showing them your pride for them is invaluable to a child. Please… just in case… in the morning let them know you love them, and kiss them goodnight.