No son, every child doesn’t win a prize
My five-year-old recently discovered an old trophy of mine, collecting dust in the spare room.
It was a journalism prize and one of very few trophies I’ve ever won in my life. A sportswoman I am not.
‘Why did you win this,’ he asked.
Because I was judged best on the day, I told him.
His face went all serious and he said, ‘But that’s not fair, what about the other people in the race, why didn’t they get a trophy?’
For the next five minutes we debated the merits of mummy winning a trophy and the other contenders going home empty handed.
My son remains unconvinced of the strength of my argument – that I was judged best on the day and was subsequently awarded for my effort.
That’s because he’s been raised in this brave new world where every child wins a prize.
There are no winners and losers in his world, it’s all about being involved; having fun; trying your hardest.
All admirable qualities, I agree. But real life isn’t like that. At what point should we introduce our kids to the harsh realities of life?
At our school sports carnival the coloured ‘good effort’ ribbons are available in copious supply, and are handed to every child who crosses (and doesn’t cross) the finish line, irrespective of time, effort or ability.
At Friday night swimming club our eldest son often came in second last or last.
‘It doesn’t matter mum, I tried my best,’ he told me.
Which is true. But what’s also true is that the boys who consistently win the races train regularly, swim lap after lap, refining and improving their stroke.
My son swims half-way up the pool, gets bored and starts dive bombing his parents.
You get out of life what you put in. Now there’s a good rule to live by.
We’ve been attempting to teach our eldest son about reward for effort.
He’s been doing odd jobs around the house. Feeding the dog. Emptying the dishwasher. Cleaning up his room.
He likes to strike a deal on money upfront.
I prefer to keep my options open. ‘It’s all about how good a job you do and what your attitude is like,’ I tell him.
‘Show initiative, don’t wait to be asked and put in a good effort and I will pay you more money than if you drag the chain.”
Because that’s what happens in real life isn’t it?
There is a reason we’re not all as wealthy as Richard Branson; or jetting off to the Olympics like Usain Bolt; or hosting a worldwide chat show like Oprah Winfrey.
This week I read about an American study which found the use of red pen by teachers has a bad effect on children.
Apparently it can negatively impact how the kids feel about themselves.
Sociology professor Heather Albanese says red is an emotive colour and makes students feel they’re being ‘shouted at’. She recommends teachers use blue pen instead.
Would they also prefer that teachers don’t tell their students when they have answered a question incorrectly?
‘Yes Jimmy you’re right, 2 + 2 does equal 5, good effort!’
This fear of offending and upsetting our children carries a very real risk of breeding an entire generation of super-sensitive people who expect a good, comfortable life to be handed to them. No effort required.
A generation who can’t handle constructive criticism; who think they’re beyond improvement.
Surely good teaching is all about delivery? Constructive criticism without cruelty.
That’s the parenting style I’m aiming for. Wish me luck.