My Kid’s NOT a Winner So Stop with the Trophies

Diploma?

My little brother strode the stage in his cap and gown, gave his med school dean an emphatic handshake and transitioned from Mister to Doctor for the rest of his life. “Now, that is really something,” I said to my mom through misty eyes. That decades-old moment still resonates in my heart.

A couple weeks ago, my 5-yr-old, in a lemon-yellow $15 cap and gown we were obliged to buy, was handed his “Diploma” at his PreK4 “graduation.” I love my son’s school, but this, simply put, was bullshit! 

When my wife called the principal to share our opinions against PreK graduation, she was told this was an expectation of American parents; all kids receive a Certificate of Completion for the year. I’m no hater; let the children sing We Are The World, and I’m front row, lip-quivering like a granny. But let’s just call that a year-end celebration and skip the pomp and circumstance … especially when my boy could not care less about his “diploma” (which has already been recycled). By fabricating a false sense of achievement we diminish the sanctity of a graduation and do more harm than good.

We fail as parents and teachers when we “try to make each child feel like a winner or, in some way, outstanding, even if the student has done little to warrant such attention,” say Dr. Jeffery Kanov, the former district psychologist for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Kids come to expect that, by doing the bare minimum, in this case, merely showing up at preschool, lavish praise is warranted. “The sad truth is that bestowing a sense of feeling special, or exceptional, or outstanding on a child who hasn’t actually earned these labels only serves to enhance that child’s sense of entitlement. It stokes narcissism which leads people to not only demand special treatment from others … but to believe it is their right. Narcissists don’t do well with criticism and tend to blame others for their mistakes and failures,” says Kanov.

Do you want your kids easily demoralized by failure and willing to cheat or avoid applying themselves to avoid it?

All-star?
All-star?

Making the little league All-star team was one of the biggest moments of my young life. And I wore that patch on my arm with immense pride. Not making that elite team the following year made me hungry to work that much harder to get back on top, which I eventually did. Trophies were once rare and powerful motivators.

The same week my 5-yr-old “graduated,” my wife got an email asking her to come in to retrieve our 7-yr-old’s baseball trophy for his just-finished first season. Flashing back to our boy absent-mindedly doing cartwheels in right field, my wife asked “Did everyone receive trophies?” Of course, everyone did. Our son’s hitting and catching improved and he brought a good attitude, but did he deserve a “reward?” Absolutely not.

The experience is the prize!

In a wonderful NYT Op-Ed, titled Losing Is Good For You, Ashley Merryman writes of “a Maryland summer program that gives young kids awards every day — and the “day” is one hour long. The science is clear … nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.”

Merryman nails it, “If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.”

We don’t get trophies for just showing up at work in the real world, so why program our kids to think that’s how the game is played? Life is tough and requires hard work, respect and failure to gain true wisdom and perspective. Merryman has great advice for us all, “Parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.”

Squall, acrylic on cardboard,  10x10", 2002, Stuart Sheldon
Squall, acrylic on paper, 10×8″, 2002, Stuart Sheldon

Stop trying to constantly “protect” your children from the painful consequences of their inaction, or worse from their own foolish or irresponsible behavior. Or from losing. We inadvertently breed little self-righteous monsters by over-praising and trying to keep our kids happy all the time. 

When they never grasp the concept of having to do something meaningful in order to get a reward or praise, they not only miss out on critical wisdom, they can get downright belligerent. When things don’t go their way, they lash out with, “It’s not fair” and “You’re so mean” and “I’m not doing it cuz this is stupid.” This unmotivated and perverted lack-of-ownership can continue into adulthood. At which point, WE, the parents, should get a trophy for most clueless.

Again, Merryman nails it, “Our job is not to reframe our children’s mistakes as victories but to help them overcome setbacks by seeing that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss … and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed.”

I still love these puppies.
I still love these puppies.

164 thoughts on “My Kid’s NOT a Winner So Stop with the Trophies

  1. Well said, Stuart

    I am particularly pleased that you quoted Merryman. She nailed it and you recognized her point.

    However, I would not have “recycled” that “diploma”, thinking about how much joy digging it out of a trunk 50 years hence would have been for Bodhi. Just me saying………… dad

      1. This article is a bunch of bullshit. Where’s the study or proof that these kids grow up to be narcissistic? My eldest son had a kinder grad, a baseball trophy ( because all kids get one), and a grade nine farewell from his school as he went off to high school, and he has excelled in school for all grades and won leadership awards as well as volunteering on a city youth council. Why? Because he has confidence and self-esteem. Because he was made to feel part of a school community and a sports community. The kinder or pre-school grad allows a child to feel they have matured out of their baby years and are ready for school on a full-time basis. Sounds like you’re just too cheap to want to pay for the $15 cap and gown and not appreciate the meaning behind the celebration.

        1. Wrong. American children will not likely lead in the 21st century due to a pervasive coddling atmosphere. Hungry children like those in emerging countries will take the lead. It is called evolution; it is a natural progression. It is why America is 28th worldwide in education and similarly positioned in healthcare, poverty and, get this… INFANT MORTALITY (that is right, less infants die I believe in ‘3rd world’ Guayana than in the US). I am not into America bashing, we have a great country, but we have lost our edge. You get your edge back by working hard and working smarter and not expecting to be handed anything for merely participating and breathing. You get to be valedictorian by earning it and that is to be celebrated and rewarded. Diluting the work/reward system for mammalian species results in inferior work; it may work for insects who have a limited amygdala. I am not against nurturing, but entitling is another story.

        2. Thank you for asking about the research. Cause and effect are difficult to determine at the best of times. I often hear this argument, that has a certain ring of ‘truthiness’ about it. I think reasonable parenting can overcome the effect of a few trophies that the whole team gets. It can’t be that hard to teach children the difference between a keepsake of participation and real accomplishment.

        3. If you are Canadian (grade 9 reference), your culture is much different than the USA’s culture which is one of arrogance at every level.

          1. Dear Anonymous Canadian,

            Speaking as a fellow Canadian…you should have better manners!

            In the same vein as this article, I’m sorry, but you do not get a Gold Star for simply writing a comment. Gold Stars are reserved for those who have something relevant, intelligent, & meaningful to add. Even if you do not agree, frame your response in such a way that you do not bring derision onto yourself…and your Country.

            You have received an ‘F’. However, there is a chance for redemption. Please consider your rude original response and resubmit one with tact, decorum & an apology for your behaviour.

            It’s up to you.

        4. Too bad you didn’t have the balls to give your name. If you have to hide behind anonymous, save your comments and opinion please!

        5. Sorry dude my daughter excelled all the way through school. But by giving every kid an award it diminished any award she received. In grade seven she received academic excellence in 4 subjects. Then we sat for an hour while kids got for awards for best attendance, good attitude, and a neat desk. My daughter looked at me and said why do I bother if every kid in my class is going to get an award that looks like mine.

          1. I felt the same way growing up. I worked my tail off to become salutatorian of my class. I was in direct competition with the person who was valedictorian for 4 years and the difference ended up being 1/100th of a grade point between us. I received achievement awards throughout those years for everything from history to math to perfect attendance, but it never seemed to be worth all the work because everyone was receiving something, even if they were going to have to repeat the grade. I did it only because i wanted to graduate at the top of my class and go to a good college. I knew a high GPA would help in that endeavor. That was over 15 years ago, and the attitude toward rewards is a part of what is wrong with millennials as a generation, I believe. We, as a group, are whiny, self-absorbed, entitlement seeking brats that feel our mere existence in the office cubical should be recognized.

            To make it worse, my niece received achievement awards for her aptitude this year in several subjects (she is 5) At awards day, to avoid hurting the feelings of the children that didn’t do anything to actually earn an award, they simply had the children come to the front in alphabetical order and receive a plain manila envelope that contained their awards. EVERYONE received an envelope with a certificate of completion; the ones who had actually earned something else had it in their envelope along with the bogus completion award. No announcement, no celebration, just 15 minutes of children getting an envelope. My niece wasn’t even excited about her achievement because everyone got the same thing.

            Yet we wonder why no one is willing to put in the effort to get and keep a job…

        6. There’s no proof one way or the other. So the fact that you’re insinuating that your child’s confidence & self-esteem came from his being made to feel part of a school & or sports community holds just as much water as the person insinuating their child’s idea of the world is carefree & fair because of the very same situation.

        7. This article isn’t bullshit. I am sure that your parenting along with his accolades helped him with his self esteem, but this is not necessarily the norm. I would say that many parents like and accept these awards for their children to make themselves feel like they are accomplishing something as a parent but they are worthless trinkets if they are not earned. The laziness and lack of feeling like hard work pays is epidemic among the Millenials, just ask any manager of any business that mainly works with this age group. I have never believed that anyone should be given special treatment for nothing as it sends the wrong message. I raised my kids to be people that I would want to be around, that I would want to serve me in a place of business, someone I can trust and feel proud of. I was successful in that endeavor. They never earned any prizes, that concept is ridiculous, a lot like giving birthday gifts to a sibling when their brother or sister is having their birthday. They will each get their special day in due time and patience truly is a virtue, the other is over indulgent and sends a bad message.

          1. Check this out Stuart! This famous football player is pretty much saying the same thing you did in your article on Kids getting Awards & Trophies even though they have not earned it!

            http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2015/08/16/james-harrison-wont-let-his-sons-accept-participation-trophies/

            and

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steelers-linebacker-takes-away-his-sons-participation-trophies_55d0b8fde4b055a6dab09dfd

            Cheers from Canada,
            TYG =)

        8. Your child was most likely just born like that. Just because he got participation trophies does not mean anything! Trophies are ment to motivate but kids usually end up saying that they’re good enough to get one. It does not motivate children.

      2. I’ve got a 2 yo boy who smacks ppl when he gets tired. I’ve been told that he was taught that! ! We do NOT smack around here. . So what else could have caused it?

  2. WOW!

    This brought back memories of why I did not give Jodi or Jeff a High School graduation party. Everyone else had parties and received gifts for something that in my opinion was expected of them. Maybe I was a “bad” mom but then again maybe I just wanted my children to understand that rewards were not given for something that should be accomplished.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with this article. However, I WILL give my daughter a party upon high school graduation next year, because it is something she has worked hard to earn. Every single day of high school has been a struggle, both academically and emotionally. She is highly intelligent and a public “achiever” who also faces down mental and physical illness (that very few know about) every single day she leaves the house. By this time next year, she will have earned that grad party, as she has earned her diploma. She plans to go to college, and just taking that step will also be cause for celebration. I completely agree with not giving kids awards for things that should be a given. But often what is a given for some is a true accomplishment for others. Even a Kindergarten graduation for a kid with a learning disability or a home life challenge can be an accomplishment, even if it isn’t for his/her classmates. God made us all different 🙂

      1. Too Harsh if you ask me. Some kids never get recognition, so let them hold onto something at some point in their life Also, praise is supposed to build self esteem. I grew up with no , trophy or pat on the back. I succeeded with hard work. It was expected. Then came a new era. No negative comments (even when comments are not negative but the truth) and praise and more praise to build that self esteem. Well, now you want to change it and go back to my era. Good for you but it will take a lot of understanding and acceptance. Also, I am sure not everyone agrees with you. You posted all the agreeing comments.

        1. I appreciate your candor, Anne – This issue is certainly delicate, as it deals w self esteem and personal growth. Still, I feel gratuitous praise has gotten way out of hand … and our kids are suffering for it.

          As to the comments, I do not edit them at all. They simply are what they are. Apparently, many folks share my point of view on this. NOTE – I’ve been blogging for over 10 yrs and this is the single most popular post I have ever written.

        2. You said that you succeeded with hard work! As a teacher of high school for the last 18 years, students perception of hard work has greatly changed and this is because societies expectations have changed. As a result students are passed through the system without achieving the standards that used to be in place and without having to work for it. We water down curriculum and expectations for those that ” can’t cut it” and they pass anyways. You have students graduating high school who are sometimes barely literate! As a result we have created lazy, dependent, self entitled generations. We complain about the bad service we get at stores, how shelves are never stocked, how employees take too many unwarranted sick days. There is a correlation.
          Hard work is learned and we simply aren’t teaching it!

          1. By the time someone is 40 and they are looking around and have achieved nothing I will assume they would have figured out not working hard at something was where they went wrong

            1. Actually, as an educator for 40 years, and having taught the children and grandchildren of my first students…most 40 year olds today who don’t achieve, usually look for someone else to blame. I see the “Occupy Kindergarten” movement on the horizon

          2. Anonymous
            June 30, 2015: You hit it right on the nose. Goals should be set @ a very young age. Nothing hard, but enough to start the lesson that in life, you have to set goals w/ the understanding to reach those goals, it’s going to take hard work. And, even w/ hard work, sometimes you’re going to fail more than you succeed, but you never give up & keep striving to do your best. My question to these people trying to teach our kids how fair life should be, when & how do you teach kids to work hard & understand that nothing is ever given freely in life w/ out hard work.? They want to wait until kids get a certain age & then start to ease it in. If you know kids & how they grow, then you understand that kids respond to consistency. You can’t consistently accept mediocracy from a child, then believe you’re going to somehow wake up one day, demand more & receive more from that same child / now teenager. Once your child steps foot in HS, your influence decreases dramatically. What do you think a group of HS kids are going to do w/ no one in the group w/ any kind of real work ethic to motivate one another. That’s why we see the 19 – 25 year old kids of today lost. Many of them are good kids, have ideas, want to do something in life, but have no idea how to motivate themselves to work hard to achieve things.

        3. Totally agree, positive recognition builds self-esteem and confidence. I’ve seen it in my eldest child who had a kinder grad, got the baseball trophy everyone else got, and had a gr 9 farewell. He was part of a school and sports community that helped him become a leader among his peers. This author is full of it. And as I posted in a reply to him, the kinder grad helps children to feel mature and ready for school on a full-time basis. It’s a big deal to leave your home or child-care setting full-time to go to school and the kindergarteners should be given the emotional benefit of a grad to strengthen their spirits and ready them for their next phase of life.

          1. They don’t need a graduation at 5 to teach them that, they should get that from their parents. There are many other ways to teach self esteem and emotional benefit than a graduation from Kindergarten. That is something the parents want the kids could care less!

            1. How many parents are struggling to take care of themselves, let alone their children. If the home is divided, or resources are very short, children have a hard time focusing on anything. If there is only bullying at home (or abuse) school may be their only safe place. It may be hard for the child to continuously transition from fear to safety. It is hard to have self-esteem if putdowns are common. I’m not terribly in favor of awards for every little thing, but for some children, these are the only awards they get.

        4. I believe this is a very common misperception. Praise does not build self esteem. Overcoming a challenge is what does the trick. If there is no challenge there is no opportunity to feel like you have actually been good at something. Without a sense of having achieved something you had no idea you could do, there is no chance to develop self worth. It comes from within the child and not from ‘awards’ and ‘praise’ Just watch a toddler repeatedly attempt to climb onto the couch. They struggle very hard and then finally they are up!!! The self esteem is so evident in their face. You don’t get that from a piece of paper or words of praise. You get it from overcoming the challenge. It is earned.

    2. OOh thank you for that post.
      That’s how I felt during the 5th grade elementary slide show “graduation”. Bewildered by the drama, feeling even a little guilty actually that I hadn’t planned a celebration like all the other parents.
      Shocked too at how many of the parents encouraged the drama.
      Same with Middle School. Nothing, nada… the kids seemed totally fine with it. I was not fine actually as I felt they may NOT have deserved to graduate MS and move on and “up” without effort, engagement or consequence for their lack thereof…

      Very good topic to address. I welcome the dialog.

    3. I didn’t have a party for my high school grafuation or my college graduation. I did get taken out for dinner for my doctorate though. The sense of accomplishment itself was enough for me.

    4. I agree wholeheartedly with the article, but not with this comment. Graduation parties, I believe, are diverging from the point being made. My children both received graduation parties not as a ‘reward’, but as a celebration for marking a necessary but nonetheless important milestone in their lives. I say let them drink and be merry, so that they may wake up with the fervour to continue down the road!

    5. Wow. I thought I was the only one who said that. I didn’t allow my kids to send out high school graduation announcements for something I thought was expected of them. Sure we celebrated a milestone event within the immediate family and they were quite happy with that. But college graduation, different story.

  3. Stu,
    Totally agree with this sentiment. Barbara and I were just discussing the very same thing. For one soccer tournament that Luka played in all the teams got medals. Ridiculous.

  4. Stu – After running the TBA Basketball League for 5 yrs and changing from everyone gets trophies to only the winners get them, I could not agree more. Not only does it send the wrong message to those that get trophies for not acheiving but it sends an equally wrong message to those that do acheive. My friend, you are acheiving and your reward is your beautfiul wife and boys. Love you, MARK G

  5. Life is hard and competitive. Players gonna play play play. Haters gonna hate hate hate (TSwift is for realz). Couldn’t agree more that we neuter our kids by heaping reward for showing up or mediocrity. Adults don’t get better salaries or bonuses for a job done. It’s a job well done. When I line up against 1000 other people for a single job at airbnb, my participation ribbon isn’t going to drive me to compete and win. No, it’s through overcoming challenge and experiencing defeat that we manifest growth.

    NP

  6. This really was a wonderful post, Stuart (though all your posts are uniquely illuminating). I couldn’t agree more with EVERYTHING you said, and I could forward your blog to about l,000 parents I know who will come down strongly on one side or the other, I’m sure. Thanks for sharing so much of your expansive insights with us.

      1. Just so you know, your post has even circulated South Africa too! And yes, if you are a swimmer and you win by time, then by heat and then by timed final again, yes, give a medal!! Buy I couldn’t agree more that graduation in preschool is obviously expected. I believe strongly in encouraging every child I know to participate and do his absolute best and try even harder the next time he or she has an opportunity! My daughter is a strong swimmer and great in other sports too but my son not so much an athlete but every day I see how it breaks him to see and hear of his sister’s achievements. I do however encourage him to work hard and in tough times even harder. This past weekend, he was the youngest rider doing 20kilometres cycling! I couldn’t be more proud!!

        1. Helloooo south Africa! Sounds like your son is really working to achieve some glory of his own. Respect!

  7. Right on, Stu. In later years yur kids will look back and say, “you were right, dad”.

    Keep the wisdom coming.

    Klomp

  8. Hey Stuart,
    My son and daughter-in-law were just hustled into a BIG graduation deal for their eighth grader. They felt like they were “bad” parents for not “inviting” the grandparents to drive 4 hours in each direction to attend and doing the party thing. I forwarded this to them and my daughter-in-law posted it on her FB page and within an hour received 20 likes from parents who are also clearly in the “Huh!” deer in headlight mode. Well said and loved that you brought in the troops to support it.

    1. Love it! Hope she and her friends can change these silly practices too. We’re all in this together.

    2. My daughter just had grade 8 graduation and the school actually sent letters home asking everyone to keep it casual, don’t go wild and spend tons of money on dresses, limos, etc. I did buy a dress (not expensive), and everyone was dressed up. But I agree with those who say going to school is what is expected of kids AND around here everyone passes regardless of marks. High school is harder and you can actually fail, so I expect a bigger celebration for that.

  9. Nailed Ami and my feelings this past week as well as we each had to take a day off work to “honor” our boys step up from pre-K to K and from K to 1st grade. Each ceremony started at 11 a.m. with a picnic by class afterwards at schools across town (hence we both had to take days off work). Madness. At least there were no trophies or caps and gowns. But there was a lot of generalized “honoring for hard work and dedication” in the ceremony i attended. Worse that it was not even directed at a single individual and their specific action. Sheesh. So, how do you opt out without appearing to your child that you do not care (as much as other parents do) ? You talk to them, sure, but they look out at a room full of parents and you are not there or you ask them not to give your kid a trophy for non-specific achievement…Thanks for saying well what we all live, Stu. You are my journal.

    1. And thank you, Mr. Peay, for taking me to my happiest place every time we hang, especially, but hardly exclusively, at your farm.

    2. Andy – I opted out by never picking up my son’s trophy. He happened to be sick the day of the last game and “awards ceremony” so he never even what he was missing. I also wrote an email to the head of sports sharing my feelings about participation trophies.

    3. As you stated it was not a cap and gown award service but a end of the year party instead I think you missed what this was about. Life with our precious ones is short. We have have lots of time to work but missing out on some fun with kidlet’s while celebrating these milestones is priceless. These are the moments you can NEVER get back.

  10. I really loved this post Stu. Thank you. I was a competitive swimmer when I was a boy and I really cherished the ribbons we won at big meets. There were ribbons for every place (only 6-8 total cuz the pool is only so big) but we all knew the blue ones were the ones you had to work extra hard to earn. Same thing in Karate. I worked my ass off and kicked a few to boot to earn the opportunity to TEST for the belts I was ultimately awarded. I was two degrees of brown away from black when I injured my head on a trampoline and had to quit. I still have all my belts in a keepsake chest…and the ribbons too.

    1. That’s all good, because there’s a reasonable ascension of achievement that made you work hard and feel like you really did something when you progressed.

  11. Hey Stu,

    It was great seeing you after so many years; meeting your boys…and your trophy wife. Looking forward to seeing you both again soon.

    After reading your blog about the diploma scam…Not everyone is a winner…or a graduate…and giving medals for showing up isn’t productive. Keep up the good fight for your boys.

    Here’s my take:

    I received a diploma in my pre-K group at Polo Park (Miami Beach) in 1967. It ended up being the only diploma I ever picked up. I graduated early from HS with a GED, never paid the 20 bucks for a copy of my AA from Miami Dade, and couldn’t be bothered to wait until they got to the “S’s” for my UM degree. If I am ever able to dig the photo up, I will forward it to you. I wore a lovely blue dress…a white cap (I guess parents were obliged in those days too), and my little white socks with white mary janes. Maybe I understood then it was never gonna get any better than picking up that diploma and a lollipop.

    Henri

  12. Well said, my brother.
    You’re a fine father to Kai and Bodhi and uncle to my son Max. I thought this post was spot on…keep the wisdom pearls flowing man.
    And thank you for the loving memory of my med school graduation. Having you and the rest of the family there for that defining moment in my life was quite special.

    Love,
    Eric

    1. SO RIGHT ADAM!
      I actually edited that out of this post for space. But I feel strongly about it.

      Everyone – please NEVER kid my kids another gift bag, especially one filled with plastic garbage made by child slaves. I promise to refrain from same.

      1. As an alternative to the gift bags… or sometimes even presents for the birthday kid, when they get older…. offer a donation in each of their names to the local animal shelter or homeless shelter. One year, we “adopted” an endangered sea turtle and gave the party kids the info to log on and follow the sea turtle via its tracker. They enjoyed following her all year, seeing where she nested, etc. The following year, those same kids (4th grade) did their own fundraiser — their idea — and raised enough to adopt a turtle for another year, that the whole class could follow. Another year, we asked the birthday guest to eat bring a bag of dry pet food to donate to the animal shelter, etc. There are ways to use the “throwaways” to teach kids that it is not, nor should be, all about them, even on their birthday 😀

  13. As a mediocre athlete at best I never won crap, and the one year my team won the championship, my 10 year old ass was on the bench. That trophy meant nothing to me. I did eventually find success as an endurance athlete and found the podium a handful of times. Those trophies, like your patches, I still have. You know as a coach and parent I am right there with you and kudos for writing about an issue many are afraid of speaking up about for fear of being labeled ‘non-nurturing’. We need to return to the old days for our children’s sake. We are raising whiners and entitled children and it will come back to bite us in the ass. Humans need to be kept on the edge.

    1. In the film program i went to for college there was meetings with a teacher, and he required that everyone meet with him 4 times over the year. And there’s people met with him, talked for 15 minutes, left. did that 4 times, and one year someone did that then got his marks and the teacher gave him 50%. The dude was furious and went to him “I did what you asked and you gave me this shit mark” so he said “Yes, i said to meet with me a minimum of 4 times. So i gave you the minimum mark to pass. i’ll give you a “above and beyond” mark when you go above and beyond”. He was an awesome teacher, only had him for one class, then he retired. He’s the kind of person that no matter what you are talking to him about, he’ll tell you something that’s very insightful. Talk to him about undercooked meat, and next thing you know he makes you understand the meaning of life with a statement like “Sometimes the greatest trips leave your legs soar..” or some shit.

  14. Great article Stu!
    To play the devils advocate a bit…….
    I like the idea of marking the transition from middle school to HS.
    Out here we call it Contunuation not graduation and there are no cap and gowns involved. I feel this is a nice balance!
    Additionally, I compete in several triathlons and running races every year. When i cross the finish line, regardless of my pace, i receive a medal along with everyone else. There are addition awards for the top finishers.
    Do I need a medal to mark my accomplishment? Hell no! But I love the drawer full of memorabilia. Will I ever podium? Highly unlikely! But you better believe I busted my ass training to complete and do my best in each race and it feels good to wear a medal afterwards.
    I want my kids to work hard and enjoy the fruits of their labor in their chosen paths.
    I only hope Steve and I are teaching them to look inward more often than not.
    Roni
    xo

  15. When my children graduated from highschool, I gave them each a wooden shoe-shine box, filled with waxes, creams, brushes, cloths, and laces. I said that employers notice the little things when interviewing future employees and that their shoes had better look polished. Some of their friends got new cars upon graduation.

  16. This post really spoke to me. I feel the same about birthday parties. I don’t believe in giving my child a big lavish party, especially every year, and I mean lavish!! These days kids have their parties at a rented place with bouncy castles, balloon twisting, chocolate fountains, you name it! What ever happened to wanna come over to my house and play a few games and maybe if we are lucky, mom will order us a pizza? Nothing is special anymore, It saddens me sooo much that we are raising our kids to feel entitled. It’s a balancing act all the time. You want to give your child everything, but we just need to realize that love and guidance is the only thing they really need.

    1. The last few years my daughter has had sleepover with three or four of her friends for her birthday. Which means supper, cake, snacks and breakfast. I only did the big party once back when she just started school. Next year she will be graduating grade 8 and its will be graduation mass and then going out for supper with close family and friends as well as a gift from us. I’d rather save the money from those party’s and take her on trips that she’ll remember with the help of photos.

  17. Why do we need awards at all then? Best overall? Really?! Why are we ranking kids, pitting them against each other.

  18. Elementary sports day present day: at the end of the day of really hard work for some and goofing off for others every child gets one participation ribbon. My children didn’t even mention the ribbon when they got home and it was lost and forgotten almost immediately. Sports day when I was a child: I worked my butt off all day trying to get a couple third place ribbons and wow was I ever proud of those ribbons. I must have worn them pinned to my shirt for weeks! In Canada we have a no fail system in public school. My son’s report card clearly outlined that he was “not meeting grade level expectations” for grade level in most subjects yet was promoted to the next grade. Needless to say my children no longer attend public school!

  19. When I taught swimming lessons you wouldn’t believe how upset parents would get when their kids didn’t pass the level on their first time. I was actually screamed at once in front of the whole pool. Um, sorry, your kid isn’t ready and I don’t want them drowning in the next lesson. They had fun and got exercise, that’s the goal right there

  20. My son went to public school for kindergarten (he is now home schooled) and had a field day near the end of the year. I was so excited to hear about his day and find out if he won any awards. Field day was my JAM back in the day and I have several blue ribbons and awesome memories. When I picked him up that day, he told me he had won nothing. I was bummed for him and was planning on telling him something super inspiring when he tells me NO ONE won ANYTHING. There were no prizes or ribbons; everyone was a “winner”… grrr… No, son. No they are not. Yet another reason to homeschool.

  21. Not sure I agree that this is a simple issue. On one hand, always lavishing praise for completing what is your duty would be bad. But on the other hand, kids live in the moment. And adults live in both the past and the future – and usually will lose the ability to live in the moment – which is why meditation done well is very hard.

    By celebrating a year of working hard – even if the child didn’t – you are teaching them about the possible rewards of dedication. Not every time, not every year, not every soccer game – but we shouldn’t let children plod on throughout the year without showing them that rewards await them if they look to the future and put in extra effort.

    Experience is the prize – is a wonderful sentiment for adults. But for children, they won’t get that until they are older. Eating broccoli, struggling to learn the rules of math, quiet time with a book instead of playing are all examples of experience is the prize.

    I celebrate some small year-long or season-long victories while my son is young. Show him what is possible next year – but then have a nice long talk about what else he needs to do to earn it. “You’re getting older now…”

    I, for one, did not get this education – and I realized it always too late that if I wanted to “win the prize” I should have started sooner. And I’m not saying it would have made me a better person, but I am saying that this is in fact a complicated issue.

    Good luck to parents in navigating the “best” path to healthy children – or at least an earnest attempt.

  22. I’m past this stage now, nearly to the grandparent stage actually, but saw this on a young friend’s timeline and wanted to say good post!!

    When my sons were in school they did receive “participation” ribbons on Sports Day but they didn’t want a bunch of the little white ribbons- they wanted the red and blue!!

    They were taught to want more, reach for it and work to achieve it.

    I miss those days, I really do.

      1. Showed this article to my sons, I am going to clean up the language a bit (quite a bit) from my youngest lol

        Who thinks that giving a kid a medal for breathing in a certain room at a certain time is a good idea anyways???

        My eldest said- What about the kids who work hard to get the awards, this just shows you can get something for nothing.

        They are 25 and 26, part of the so called “entitled generation”.

  23. I agree 100%. I am a teacher and during awards tinge I find it quite frustrating when ask BUT four students in a class get dune type of award. How is it possible for almost an entire class to get honor roll??? I am a tough grader and only my tip top students get honor roll. I might have four or five honor roll students another class will have 15- 20…I don’t get it. When I taught kinder we did a promotion ceremony…kids dressed nice and sang a couple of songs…And a certificate of completion.

    1. I just attended my daughters grade 8 graduation where awards were given to exceptional students who worked hard and were very deserving.bbbbexcept for one….General Proficiency…any student who maintained 80% average all three terms.

      Of 31 children, 26 were on stage. The remaining 5 are children wth special education needs. This was glaringly wrong! So sad to see the entire class up on stage except the 5 sitting red faced in the seats……my daughter was one of them however, I have to say I was so proud of her…he comment to me afterwards, “I need to work harder”.

      1. This takes me back to my child’s grade 8 graduation. Each year until then there had been an honor roll for kids with over 80% in all classes, a certificate for highest marks in each class, a medal for highest overall average, a medal for most improved and a male and female athlete of the year. My child studied very hard all year to try come first in the class (as well as participating in most sports and volunteering for a bunch of causes through the year). Near the end of the year, the principal announced that they would only give out the honor roll (which took in about 2/3 of the class)’ the athletic awards and the most improved, as well as certificates for industrial arts, home ec and music, because “people had to put in effort Outside of class for those”. When I challenged him on his logic, he stated that he didn’t want to have kids working for an award because then they would not internalize the reward system. Funny that it works that way for academics, but not for sports.

  24. I do agree with most of this. Up here in Canada, a child may drop out of high school as of 16. No law obligates them to attend. So when my boys do graduate, because I expect them to, I will be one proud mom. On the personnal side, my eldest chose not to participate in sports but chose more individual avtivities that he has succes in. No rewards there. But my second son is very athletic and competetif. This is in his second year in competetif soccer. You must make the cut to make the team. All he got from us as parents is a thumbs up and ” great job!” Now for our last son, whom has down syndrome, everything is a succes and a reason for celebration. No rewards but a lot of high fives, hugs and kisses, and whatnot. To each there own and each child is different. Some need that little recognition to get them to the next step.

  25. Totally agree. When my oldest son was in grade 12 he blew one semester, and wound up 1 credit short for graduation. He had done all the fundraising for his school celebration but was not allowed to cross the stage to get his diploma, which he didn’t earn. We did have his grad supper because everything was paid for. However, when he had to tell us (his parents) that he was a credit short and would not be receiving his diploma, that was an eye opener right there for him. His solution was ” I will go back in the fall and get my credit” My answer ” I don’t think so” you see I had checked into summer school already after getting a call from the principal he did not know I got. I then informed him about the classes he could take to pick up his one credit and gave him the schedules which also included the cost. Basically pick one and arrange with your employer the time(s) you will be attending this class. And then I said ” and by the way, I paid for 13 yrs of school for you, you will be paying for this one. ” He picked up the class, passed it, and went to the school to collect his diploma with the credit in his hand. The vice principal told him that it didn’t count because he didn’t finish his grade 12 with the class. Now he was upset, and pointed out t he the marks came from the ministry of education the same place all his other marks went and there was no reason that how he got his last credit was any different than all his years of education. It was still recognized by the board of education and he now earned his Grade 12 diploma. You see by having to go the long way of getting it made it that much more special to him, and now he was willing to fight for it. He did get it, after making his point, a little begrudgingly I might add.

  26. Flo says it best I’m the Progressive commercials. “Sprinkles are for winners”. I’m tired of people praising mediocrity. I have 3 boys I’m trying to raise into gentlemen and hopefully leaders. I use different words. When my 5 year old shows me his legos build I praise his creativity. It looked nothing like what was on the box. I hope every day I’m not screwing them up.

    1. Go Melissa! Keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Interesting note – Dr. Kanov told us he never once told his kids “I’m proud of you.” The reason was not that he was not proud of his kids. On the contrary he was and is most proud of his children, now very successful adults. The reason he never said this to his kids was that he felt his being proud of them was irrelevant. What mattered was that THEY felt proud of themselves. He did not want them to start looking to him for his approval of their achievements.

  27. I couldn’t agree more with all the sentiments expressed. The graduation from daycare with the child in cap and gown is ludicrous to say the least. Just as bad however, are all the parents filming the occasion and making little Johnny feel that he is more special than anyone else. I believe it is why so many children feel the have the right to be cruel and bully other kids, because they are special. For what?

  28. I guess we lucked out with our son’s school. There was no graduation, no celebration, no cap and gown, nor any diploma this year when our son finished kindergarten. I was surprised and asked about it on the last day. I did have to ask if my son passed though. (haha) But I was confused because EVERY SINGLE parent with a child the same age was posting graduation photos on Facebook for kindergarten and Pre-K. My son’s school doesn’t do that. He also did not bring a single “trophy” or “award” home this year. He merely brought home art projects, paintings and a Mother’s Day picture frame he proudly presented to his stay-at-home dad. (lol)

  29. TOTALLY AGREE!!!

    My 6-yr-old daughter recently got a medal at her gymnastics performance (as did every other kid) and I corrected her every time she told someone she WON it. We always stress the importance of acknowledging excellence in achievements and graciousness in defeat. If she WANTS to win a medal or trophy, she needs to know what that requires.

    Oh, and while we’re talking about what our kids don’t need…can we please also stop shovelling sugar into kids mouths? (No, juice isn’t “healthy”. It’s just sugar water.)

  30. Wow! I can’t thank you enough for sharing such a well written article on a subject that I have been passionate about for as many years as I’ve had children. I’ve often voiced my opinion on this topic, and have usually been looked at with both shock and horror when doing so.
    One of my favourite examples of this actually involves my decision to not reward my daughter for a very special achievement. Several years ago, when she was 10, my girl earned her black belt in TaeKwonDo. The morning of the ceremony where she would receive her hard earned belt, I was shocked by all the parents who asked me what I had gotten her as a gift for such an amazing achievement. There were kids and teens who had been gifted iPhones and iPads, gaming systems and cash. For just a few seconds, I thought that maybe her father and I should ‘reward’ her with a gift. Eventually, my response was that our entire family had sacrificed thousands of dollars, and probably an equal number of hours in order to help her achieve this goal. The belt itself was her reward, and why would I choose to lessen its’ symbolic importance by lavishing gifts upon her? I don’t know that a single parent I spoke to that day paused for even a second to think about this before going on to tell me what their little Jane or Johnny had received as a gift.
    On a similar topic, things such as re-writes on quizzes and exams in schools don’t sit well with me. I’ve made it clear to my children that I don’t believe in second chances for studying for exams. Sadly, where we’re from, the schools actually have ‘No Zero’ policies in place. WHAT?! A couple of years ago, a well respected high school teacher was terminated for his refusal to adhere to that policy and his decision to ‘reward’ a student who did not hand in an assignment with what he had earned-a ‘0’.
    My apologies for such a lengthy response, but I truly am passionate about this subject!
    Kudos to you, Sir!

  31. WOW! Please send me your raise or promotion when you get one in your present line of work because…….let’s face it……weren’t you just doing what was expected of you??????

    1. Um no, where do you work? You get a raise and certainly a promotion on merit. If you just do the minimum of what is expected you stay exactly where you are, perhaps a slight raise for inflation. Good lord! If you go above and beyond is when you get the nice raise and the promotion to boot!

  32. My kids are 17 and 19. Both agree with the sentiments of this article. Both have worked their butts off to get where they are (my daughter has some additional struggles she faces as well). Both sort of rolled their eyes at academic awards day in high school, because of the volume of kids on stage. My daughter even chose to skip her awards ceremony this year to use that hour and a half to do homework, and I let her. Both my kids realize special recognition is almost meaningless when practically everyone gets it. I didn’t have to teach them this. It is an observation they made on their own. And sometimes in the real world, you can work your butt off and get absolutely no recognition. You get your paycheck and pay your bills and be a productive member of society. I never gave my kids money for doing regular chores around the house either, unless it was something above and beyond the norm. They live in that house and wear those clothes and dirty those dishes; they can help keep up the household they live in. Both have maintained high GPAs in school and worked every summer since they were 13. My son’s college is covered because of a scholarship he worked two years to earn. BTW — I’m a single mom who has worked my own butt off with multiple jobs to raise my kids for the past 11 years, so I kinda know what I’m about 🙂 Where’s my trophy???! Oh, yeah. I have great kids who won’t mooch off society nor cause their future employer a headache. That’s my trophy 🙂

    1. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Chris!!! You represent what a dedicated mother is supposed to be, in my book. You have my utmost respect and admiration. And I’m confident your kids have backbones of steel as a result.

      1. Aw, shucks. And yes, they do. Sometimes they try and fail. Sometimes they try and succeed. But they TRY. And that is what I am proudest of. Stubborn can be a good thing!

  33. Well said, sir. (I came to your post via a friend on Facebook.) My school gives out awards in each class: top three academic, citizenship, diligence. Academics are based solely on the numbers: three highest averages. Digilience is generally for the students who work their butts off but might not get an academic. Citizenship is wide open: are you a good person? Are you kind and helpful? Do you go out of your way to make the world better? Anyone can do that, regardless of their academics, intelligence, background, socio-economic status. Plus, we’ve all known those people who maybe weren’t the strongest academically, but went farther in life because they were a pleasure to work with and were personable.

    Every term kids (and some parents) grumble: the academics are always the same kids. And every term I want to say: so do something about it! Work hard! Talk to your teachers! Go above and beyond! Because if you think for one second that the award winners will sit back and say “I think I’ve got enough awards, I think I’ll give someone else a go,” you are dreaming. Top achievers, in ANY field, are tops for a reason: they cared enough to put in the time and effort. And before someone says “but some kids just don’t have the same opportunities”, I remind you that the world is full of people who pulled themselves up from nothing to be successful. Giving everyone a trophy diminishes the honour and recognition of a real award.

  34. I’m sure somewhere at my parents house is a box full of stuff from when I was in elementary school. I don’t even know where my school pictures are and that is something to keep.

    I never had a kindergarten grad and was actually very surprised when I did receive my first award in grade 7 (it was nicknamed by students as the teacher’s pet award because the teacher picked the student who tried hard at school even though they may not have made honour roll, but put effort in to doing better.) I remember my mom telling me that morning to wear something nicer to my older sister’s grade 8 grad. I told her that I would be sitting on a gym floor for 2 hours and was going to dress comfortable – of course she had gotten a phone call saying that I was getting this award.

    In high school I worked hard and made honour roll every year. We knew what classes would / could be counted towards our year end mark. And I kept track of my extra-curricular activities and how many points I was earning every year so I could get the end reward by grade 12 which is usually only give to 4 students for their extra-curricular participation that were able to meet the criteria. I never made the grade 11/12 basketball team in my grade 12 year (I thought this was unfair because he brought up grade 10s even though there were enough grade 11/12s to fill the team) So I ended up playing in a rec league that year. I wasn’t going to stop playing just because I was cut from one team. I was going to keep playing and learn more about the sport I loved and get better.

    I have worked hard for what I earned. Over the past year I have been trying to get into an EMT program and I don’t think I realized how competitive it is. I have had 1 rejection, wait-listed at 2 places (one because I haven’t finished a required class, the other I know what I did wrong). The thing about this program is that the public schools don’t reject applicants they are just wait-listed based on their score in the assessment. The official rejection came from a private program. I do have 1 official acceptance, mainly because the criteria is different as they add a fire component to their EMT program. Part of that includes a 9 month fitness class and they tell you exactly how you can get full marks and how you can fail. They then tell you to start training NOW!

    I like how I am able to go into that know that if I have spent the past 8 months training to get up to and exceed the standards they want I know I will pass the class. If I slack off over the next 8 months and believe it to be handed to me, I was told that if I don’t meet the preset requirement I would fail. They also tell you how to score a 100% on a particular component. (e.g. run 5km in under 24 minutes, and swim 400 meters in 14 minutes, and the Fire-Fit-Combat Challenge Simulation has to be completed within 2 minutes 10 seconds for 100%).

    That is the real world, I totally agree that by handing a kid award every time they just show up they will never be prepared for the real world of ups and downs, challenges and rejections.

  35. I was one of those kids that rarely got an award or recognition. It didn’t seem to matter how hard ir how little I worked, the grade seemed to always be a B. And when they did give an award to everyone, it felt like a pity award. However, in 10th grade I got on the honour roll and it was the best feeling I had. It made me work harder, and my high school ended with a total of four honour roll terms, two years of top computer science student, and top choir student. While science, english, and gym were not where I accelled, I have accelled in many non-academic areas and relish that hard won praise.

  36. So After sitting here for Only God Nows how Long Reading the article plus comment after comment, I have much to Agree on. At first I found the article a bit harsh specially when I read that you got rid of his diploma. I do have to Say though after reading so many valid points, I get It! I agree children are Awarded far too often and far to easily. I wouldn’t get rid of their diplomas but yes some of it is to over done. I unfortunately didn’t make it on time for my daughters sing along from Pre-k to Kindergarten (due to last minute change of schedule in the classes order on stage) and my poor baby cried the whole time on stage. I felt terrible as I arrived towards the end of the ordeal and cried with her. Today at the age of 11yrs old she still recalls my absence.”Mommy remember when I was singing and you missed it, so I was crying” So I say that our presence is fundamentally important, I still regret not being early to that event just because I could. Now I agree that they should definitely not be giving rewards for just anything. I believe it’s truly important to earn them. I would Just hope that the least we didn’t miss any important moments because every moment spent is a gift & can become a very important memory

    1. I think you nailed it! It is almost always about our presence vs. stuff. Whether or not a kid cares about or remembers a certificate everyone got, he’ll remember whether you were there or not. Sometimes things happen and we can’t be there, but it bears remembering how important our presence is to our kids.

    2. Karen – I agree that BEING THERE is critical as a parent. And, as much as my wife and I disapproved of our PreK4 Graduation, we were there.

  37. When my son was born in 1980 I read this book and knew, even then, how ridiculous it was. Dr. Benjamin Spock – “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” It has since been touted the most dangerous book about child rearing ever written. I have pasted an excerpt from one web source:

    “For years, the nouveau/pop psychologists (for-the-children/disciples of that spare-the-rod messiah, Dr. Benjamin Spock) have told us that the answer to “the epidemic rise of depression, suicide, violence, and drug and alcohol use among America’s teens has been poor self-esteem.” And so the Self-Esteem Movement was born.”

    I knew way back then that we were in trouble. It is those children, raised alongside my own, who are raising our current students, Our society has encouraged the notion that showing up is good enough. I teach children who do not know how to try that it is hard because they don’t know it yet and very soon what was once hard gets easy. And the cycle continues- it is called learning! This is extremely difficult for many.

    Personally, I loathe when I get the same ‘good job’ as everyone else. I would rather have no acknowledgement at all then the same atta boy as the person sitting beside me. I know when someone has out-taught me and I also know when I have excelled. We must start being honest; with ourselves and our students. If not for recognition of true strengths and weakness how will we ever grow?

  38. I never gave a thought to trivia like this and my sons grew up to graduate from Harvard and Stanford. Give it a rest and enjoy the little events in life and let your kids enjoy them as well.

    1. You are probably an amazing Mom and no doubt you and your husband have a great work ethic. Yes enjoy the moments but we cannot reward mediocrity and lack of effort.

  39. For those who do not agree with this post you must not own a business or supervise people. For those 20 to 35 years of age (the everyone plays trophy generation) who get into the marketplace expect so much for so little – entitlement personified. And if you attempt to correct them you receive push-back and if you provide a stern warning or a negative evaluation you are perceived as a bully or a hater. Office with a window, new computer, larger screen, cool and hip work station are all demands and expectations and if you give in, there is a great inability to say a simple Thank You. One employee in there late 20’s left our firm and I decided we should give them a nice and rather hefty severance, help them pack up and even helped them with moving expenses to their next destination. All undeserved trophies. There reply was nothing! No thank you and as they drove out of town, they had others stop by to deliver a few items they had mistakenly taken from our firm. Not the decency to do it themselves or say Thank You or good bye. Stop giving trophies for no reason, we are ruining our country.

  40. I’m in complete agreement. One of the local schools just made the news for spending roughly 10000 (fund-raised by families) for Grade 6 graduation. My kids both had grade-6 graduations that were far less excessive, but still struck me as very strange. At no point prior to that had my husband and I ever had a discussion about our dearest wish that our children might some day complete grade 6 – it was a given.

    We also don’t give cash awards when our kids bring home honors with distinction (year after year). We DO recognize it when they work hard at something, and praise them wholeheartedly for that. We attend all of their competitions (sports, dance…) and praise them for particularly good performance (and gently ask ‘ the play in the third period – what on earth was that?’) or at least for notable improvement from the previous time.

    One example I’ve seen of rewarding everyone is at dance competitions – in the past they may have handed out gold/silver/bronze medals, but now they hand out excellent/high-excellent/superior/outstanding (it takes me half way through the competition to figure out which one is best), or gold/platinum/diamond… No-one ever goes home with less than gold. But that said, kids are smart enough to figure that out.

    1. Hi Michele, are you by any chance from Canada (specifically, Alberta)? I think I remember reading a story in the news about that school. I know we discussed it in our staff room at school; the general consensus was not positive. Grade 9 grad seems to have also gotten out of control. (Which is not to say that a milestone, which finishing grade 9 is for some kids, shouldn’t be recognised. But when it out-fancies grade 12, that says a lot.)

  41. As a former High School Softball coach, I gave out no individual awards (until my final season). I had requirements for earning a Varsity Letter. If any of my players EARNED All Conference or other Awards by vote of the other Conference coaches, then I had a Plaque made for them denoting the Award. (Most other coaches, in the other sports, only gave the All Conference Certificate) I’ve always felt it was hypocritical to preach ‘team, team, team’, then on one night say ‘It is a team sport but Sally was our best player, hitter, defensive star, etc’ My final season, I gave 2 girls a ‘Team First’ Award. Both were non-starters, who came to practice everyday for 4 years, worked their tails off and NEVER asked about playing time.They continued to pull for their teammates. They were ready, every time, when their opportunity came to get in the game. I told the other girls, “It’s easy coming to practice every day when you know, or are pretty sure, you’re going to play tomorrow. It’s a whole other thing to come to practice and work hard ‘in case’ you get to play.” I will say that, most seasons, I tried to give the parents some sort of recognition. Sometimes it was a softball signed by the entire team, or a framed picture of their daughter ‘in action’, or a CD of pictures taken during the season. I tried to give the Seniors a nice gift on Senior Night in recognition of their effort and commitment. You wouldn’t believe how much more those things were appreciated when ‘everyone’ didn’t get one.

  42. Sometimes the most innocuous of awards can turn a child around. I participated in a camp for the Children’s Bereavement Center this spring. We had this little boy that was so difficult, non-participating, constantly in fights with other boys. He had the biggest chip and sense of failure. He did bang so well on a plastic drum at a campfire event that fellow facilitators agreed to give him a “best drummer” award and voted him to receive an indian bead jacket (the only one). What a transformation when he got his award at closing ceremonies with applause from all. He went on a hay ride with fellow campers and I took his picture with the biggest grin ever. I look forward to seeing him next year. There is a time and place for “silly” awards.

  43. I hear so much complaining now of days about how every child should get recognition/rewarded.
    As a mom with 2 children with disabilities, I do not agree with kids getting rewarded for just being there, in my opinion it gives children a false sense of security when they are rewarded for just participating.
    Thankfully for the most part the schools my sons have went to didn’t reward every child.
    I am not fully against rewarding a child but I do think there is a time and place for them, and not every child should be rewarded just for being there.
    there was one occasion in jr high school where my son was upset over not getting a reward for a project in a contest he worked hard for, He was upset for a bit but was also happy for the other child who did get this reward as the other child has worked very hard on her project also.
    I do feel that when kids are allowed to fail or are not rewarded for everything, not only does it help build more understanding and compassion in them, but it also gives them the capability to handle more stressful moments in later teen years and adulthood.

  44. “We don’t get trophies for just showing up at work in the real world”

    I do disagree with this statement somewhat. You don’t get a trophy but you did get paid and that is considered a reward.

    1. You get paid for work completed as expected. It’s a trade, not a reward. Rewards (raises, bonuses, etc.) are given for going above and beyond what is expected at work.

  45. We all need extrinsic as well as intrinsic rewards. The key is to know the difference and to teach your children to cherish both for themselves as well as others. To reject a diploma is to diminish this lesson that can be learned early on.

  46. The only part of this post I disagreed with was recycling his diploma.
    I may only be 34, but I can see the HUGE difference from when I went to school and kids now. No one fails, kids aren’t allowed to be held back or fail a grade so they just don’t care.
    On the sports topic, I couldn’t agree more. My 5yr old has played soccer for 3 summers, this being his third. Every year at the end all the kids get a medal and certificate, even if they have only made 1 game/practice the entire time. My son loves soccer but seemed unmotivated to work hard at learning and getting better.
    Fats forward to last winter when he was finally able to join his favourite sport: Hockey. It was hard work and while I praised him when he worked hard, he was driven. Driven to be as good as the older returning kids. We had 3 tournaments during the season and while all the kids that attended got a medal for participating, they handed out special awards for player of the game and they had skills competition for fastest skater and best shooter. The first time he didn’t get a medal he cried, and I told him he needed to work harder. You know what, he did!! He skated harder, worked harder at practices, and by the end of the season he was the player that all his team mates loved having on the ice. I watched him blossom with the understanding that if he wanted a medal, he had to work hard for it.
    At the season end party all players got small participation award, but there were 3 coveted medals: Most Improved, Most sportsmanship, and MVP. He and another player we’re both chosen as MVP and he was told that they would order another medal for him, to my sheer joy he smiled and said to give the other boy the medal, saying that he felt the other boy deserved it more. He might be enjoying soccer right now, but he is counting down to hockey because he LOVES being challenged and knowing he needs to work hard.

  47. Thank you for being so brave to write this article Stuart!

    Many times over the past years I have thought “what is going on here with all these Graduation ceremonies (from Kindergarten? Really?!!) to awards for everyone under the sun!

    I really feel it is better for children to learn to truly “earn” awards & accolades … not just be given them.

    As a 30+ year Coach, I saw the shift about 15 or so years ago. Parents want their children to get all this credit and awards but do not want to put in the time to receive such. Just give it to me please. It really does not prepare these children for life & sends the wrong message.

    I’m also a Mom to 2 amazing hard working, very responsibly sons in their 20’s!! <3

    For some parents though, it is all about these "so called achievements" when in fact they are not that these at all. Standards are standards! I don't think we should be compromising them or our integrity to make kids feel good. You earn what you earn & if you don't, you don't. That's life & better to learn honesty and integrity in my books!

    Just my two cents! =)

    1. Thank you, Trish. Nice to hear this from an experienced coach AND parent. What do you think caused the shift 15 yrs ago???

      1. Well that’s an excellent question Stuart! What did change? Perhaps as a society we want everything to always be good & happy & have no hardships or challenges for our children? Like challenge them, but not too much! It’s hard to say, however, in our coaching world, it has more to parents about making things easy and good for their children and honestly to me, that does not build character or discipline. What do parents want for their children really?
        I always want my kids to be self initiating, independent, step up to the plate (of life) kind of people … No excuses!
        Perhaps because there have been cases of children abused or mistreated, we have now swung the other way and want to “over protect” our children. I find it beneficial for children to fail or come last or not win. It happened to me and I learned so much from these experiences. They are so valuable but maybe parents have lost sight of that.
        Don’t know if you heard the case in Alberta, Canada last year where a School teacher was fired for failing students! Imagine that?!! Isn’t that nuts? Even in our sport it is no longer pass & fail when you take a test, it’s pass & retry. Why? If you fail, you fail, why is that a bad thing? Perhaps it is the best thing that could happen but I think many don’t see it that way. It truly is an opportunity to do better so for me, in so called failure, comes great opportunity.
        One thing I have also noticed is that the Asian cultures are not like this generally. Athletes that I have worked with since this “shift” in parenting tend to be “old school” if you will. They expect their children to listen, do as the Coach asks, give 100% and take responsibility for their training and performances. This is not always the case as I also find “traditional” parents who grew up as I did & make their children accountable. It truly serves the children best if there are expectations of them … IMHO! =)
        Thank you for opening up dialogue on this topic Stuart. I’m so glad you took a stand & spoke up!

  48. Yesterday, on our vacation, my 2 young sons both participated in a 1k running race in a small village in France. Neither had ever run in a race and had no idea what to expect. Both were excited. My 7-yo breezed thru it and could have gone further. My 5-yo suffered and struggled to finish. But finish he did, complaining of a cramp as he crossed the line, nearly in tears. All 10 kids in the race received medals and my wife said it was ironic, given my recent post. I disagree w her in this case. These medals were EARNED. These kids each accomplished something meaningful in finishing this race. And the medal is a worthy souvenir of a challenge met.

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