In case you do not remember, Tonya Harding was an Olympic figure skater whose ex-husband, along with her bodyguard, conspired to take out her competition Nancy Kerrigan by taking a baton to her knee. Nice right? It may seem an extreme example yet think about what we are teaching our children. We are living in a time when everyone receives a trophy just for participation, when we buy extra chocolate covered gummy bears for our kid’s school fundraiser so that they have the highest sales. This is troublesome for many reasons.
First, you are teaching your child that they will always “win” or “succeed” and that this is important no matter what, even if it takes lying and cheating. Deflate Gate anyone? Unfortunately, this can lead to an entitled adult, someone who believes they should always be praised or rewarded just for showing up.
Second, you are taking away learning opportunities from your child such as being able to manage frustrations, to cope with losing, to learn from mistakes, etc. These are important life lessons. Life as an adult will not always be a bowl of cherries for your child and no matter how hard you try, you will not always be able to protect them from setbacks. Yet you can help them learn how to manage these setbacks.
Third, you are actually harming your child’s self-esteem. Research shows that children are more confident and that they set forth greater effort if they are praised or rewarded for their effort and behaviors rather than end results such as winning or traits such as being “smart.”
Finally think about the impact on other children. If everyone gets a trophy then that diminishes the effort of those who placed first or second. If you buy up all those gummy bears for your child to be the highest seller then that diminishes the hard work of the child who honestly was the highest seller. Yes, life is not fair, just as it is full of ups and downs. So you could argue that those children who did win should learn that lesson. Yet we are our children’s greatest teachers. Teach them to be respectful of others, to have empathy, to use the success of others to motivate them rather teaching them to tear others down.
When you feel the urge to step in and rescue your child from loss, setbacks, or mistakes, think about why before you act. Are you trying to protect them? Is it a competition with the other child or parent? Do you view your child’s success as a reflection of your parenting? Think about how much your actions and reactions are really about you versus what your child needs.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan