At 3, my kids received trophies for soccer, which I assure you were not deserved. How do I know? Um, there were times my daughter would stop kicking the ball to chase a dragon fly. And, I could be wrong, but I don’t think my son was bending it like Beckham when he would pick up the ball with his hands and throw it to a friend mid-game.
I know, it wasn’t about them deserving their awards … all the kids get trophies for simply showing up to the ceremony — because that’s what we do to our millennial children, we make them think that they’re the best at everything. We praise them constantly and tell them everyone is a winner, leaving them little motivation, little idea of what the real world is like, and little chance of not freaking out when they realize they aren’t perfect.
My kids also have grandparents that kvell over their every move.
“Wow Jenny, I think Ry is going to be a ballerina, she’s so graceful.”
“Mom, she just tripped over another child.”
“Yes, but did you see the way she broke her fall? Flawless.”
“Wow, did Jake make that poop himself? Why, it looks like the Virgin Mary. Brilliant.”
My daughter fully believes she sounds like Beyonce, because frankly, no one has ever told her otherwise. She’s also pretty confident the mismatched Punky Brewster stripe on stripe outfits she puts together will one day be her ticket to a career in fashion design. We’ve all spent years marveling at her ability to whip up these ensembles that are so “modern” and “fashion forward” (which are nice ways of saying they clash so strongly they may cause seizures).
As my kids have grown, we’ve laid on the praise (thick). G-d forbid they feel unnoticed or lessor than any other child that has a trophy ceremony at least once a season. But, lately I’ve tried to make an effort to tell them when they aren’t good at something, because at the rate we’re going, my daughter will be waiting for her acceptance to Harvard (where she’s informed me she will be attending) to come to her without ever having to submit an application. No, it shall come hand delivered … by the dean … who no doubt will have learned of her design prowess, spelling abilities, and silky voice from Instagram and YouTube.
This is why I was so happy to tell my 11yo son he’s a bad artist. Yep, I said “bad,” frankly I may have even said “crappy” or “sucky.” And unlike his soccer trophy, he totally deserved it. He arrived home with a charcoal picture of a tree. But really, it looked more like a Rorschach test. A Rorschach test that looked so little like a tree they would commit you if you suggested that’s what you saw.
My mother-in-law, who happened to overhear my comment, immediately came to his defense, “It’s not bad, it’s abstract. Who would think to draw a tree shaped like a pear? And the squiggly lines give it so much movement. It’s genius.”
“It’s not genius.” I retorted, “He was trying to draw an actual tree. This is not his interpretation of a tree in a a hurricane being eaten by a snake, it just looks that way!”
She looked back at me ready to fight his case, but he just started cracking up at my analysis, “Thank you for not trying to tell me I’m sooo artsy.” “You’re welcome,” I said making a face at his ugly tree as if to say, how could I, when you bring me home this junk? (He enjoyed the sarcasm and a well placed wink.)
What happened next is kind of insane, so prepare yourselves. Are you ready? He didn’t fall to the ground in tears, his chest didn’t sink in defeat, his ego didn’t implode, he actually seemed happy we had this understanding and he went on with his day, as if I hadn’t dealt him that crushing blow. I mean, he’s been told he’s brilliant at everything for over a decade (and he does a lot of things really really well), but it’s nice to allow him to not be good at something that he already KNOWS he’s not good at.
I was truly able to see that the constant praise isn’t instilling a belief in his abilities, it’s instilling a belief that I’m not a credible source.
Score one for the parent!!!
Now, I’m off to tell my daughter all the things she sucks at and when I’m done, I want my parenting trophy?
my children are also crappy… er… abstract minimalist artists 😉
Yes, abstract is the perfect word. Listen, peeps made a fortune that way … you never know.
When I was bad at something my parents would tell me it was “special” or “unique”.
Now when someone says I’m unique, I tend to flip them the bird.
Sounds like you were on to them. Parents are so transparent…
Well…I guess its time to tell you, what things you really didn’t excel in. Oops, did I actually say you didn’t excel? But in your son’s defense, he was always a good colorer and he’s a good batter.
I don’t want to hear about anything I didn’t excel at. I assumed you meant every compliment you gave me!!! Don’t blow your cover now, plus I’m fragile.
Awesome post! And thank God now neither your daughter or mine will be appearing on just the first episodes of American Idol.
Mine is pretty sure she will be… no scratch that — she thinks we are going on America’s Got Talent. She will be singing and I will doing back up or whatever else she demands I do as she needs me on stage for moral support. Sounds fun right?
I’ll tell my kids when they’re not doing something well. My job is not to make them feel good at all times, my job is to make them good at things AND be prepared to deal with the harsh realities of people who don’t give a shit about their feelings. I once had to tell my daughter, when she did a particularly poor job on a piece of artwork, that I didn’t think it was very good.
We flipped through her art book, and I showed her examples of her past work that I really liked. Then I said, “take a look at this one you just did. Is that as good as the other ones you’ve done?”
“No,” she admitted.
“You were just half-assing it, hoping I’d say I liked it and you’d feel good, right?”
“Yes,” she said, astonished that I had figured it out.
“But I’m not going to praise you just because you made a scribble. You can do better than this. You’ve already done better than this. I might have gushed about this when you were three, but you’re nine, and you can draw very well. Don’t show me you’re awesome, and then bring me something less than awesome, and expect the same kind of praise and appreciation.”
She was disappointed and sad, but she has not half-assed any of her artwork after that. She works hard at it, because I wouldn’t tell her that everything she did was a home run.
You’re so right. I’ve learned (by playing good cop to my hubbies bad cop), that my son respects his opinion more, as he knows it’s not sugar coated. That was a tough lesson!
Wait?!?! Other parents are Not telling their kids what they suck at (or at which they suck, if you are with the grammar police). Other parents don’t have a list with their kids of careers to scratch off the list such as singing, dancing, or playing any musical instrument. Score one for C+ parenting!
I want my trophy to say Best C + Parent!
I have thought a lot about this. I think I did the same thing with my son because A. he was my first born and B. I got divorced about 45 seconds after he left my womb. I felt I needed to make up for something. Still do to a point.
I just don’t fall all over everything he does anymore. Honestly, because I feel he is at an age where he as to know that is fake. I don’t want my kid thinking I am fake. Ick.
I compliment him and praise him on a 100 in math when he was at a C all year last year, and tell him he did crappy at practice and I know he can do better. I don’t expect the best, but I expect you to work and not be lazy.
Life is hard, gotta start letting them know sometime…
I think that’s the key for me. Praise when you know they’re trying their best. A C is great if that’s what they get with a ton of effort and a B can be a joke if they get it lazily and with little work!
Absolutely agree with you. My son is crazy smart–definitely smarter than his older sister. But she excels in art, music, and dance. So we talk about how everyone has different gifts. When Colin did something not so great, Erin whispered to me, “Maybe that’s not his gift.” Yep.
Honestly, though, I want them to stop giving out all the damn trophies and certificates because I’M TIRED OF DEALING WITH ALL OF THE CRAP. I either have to secretly throw away that crap or stash it in some memory box that’s already overflowing with crap. Enough crap already!
Another trick it to accidentally break them. Dusting accidents happen all the time, they’re the leading cause of broken crap!
THIS. I don’t want another piece of plastic for the landfill! I finally got my oldest to let me throw everything in the recycle bin by taking a picture of it or scanning it first. He can see it anytime he wants but I don’t have the keep anymore of the CRAP.
Love this and I totally agree! One day we were walking to the park with a group of kids and they were “racing” on the way there. Sweets looks at me, as a boy is running ahead of her, “mommy, he won’t let me win!” I responded: “He shouldn’t! He wants to win. If you want to beat him and win, then you need to practice and run faster.” When we were watching the Women’s US Open and Serena won that big shiny trophy Sweets asked if everyone got a trophy and I said “no, only people that win get the trophy”. She asked why and I said, “because she practiced and played the best and won, so she deserved it.”
Why can’t we teach our kids that practicing and doing your best is always great, but not always guaranteed that you are going to win? And that if you WANT to win, you need to work hard at it?
Trophies for all is just a ticket to failure….
Certainly, growing up thinking everything you do is deserving of an award can’t prepare anyone for reality. I imagine these kids sitting on their therapists couches wondering why they fell from grace.
My husband has been complaining about the trophy thing for years…it drives him nuts. He has been a youth coach for our kids many times and one season there was a boy he coached who showed up to about 2 practices and maybe 1 or 2 games. When it came time to give out the trophies, there the boy was — ready to receive his trophy! My husband was disappointed that the kid’s parents actually thought it was okay to give him the message that he deserved a trophy even though he was basically a non-participant. Brave post — if you receive any trophy-lovers dissing you, send them to me and I’ll set them straight. 🙂
Emily – You get the award for reader that has my back more than any other reader. I know, it’s a long title so I don’t know if I can fit it on your trophy. It’ll probably just say something like Number #1.
Hello Jenny! I go by my nickname Awesomely Over-Zealous. I have to play this cheerleader card with my son CONSTANTLY. However, my son has anxiety issues so I think a little cheerleading goes a long way! Still, I do always remind him: you are not going to be good at everything in life.. there will be times you suck.. Live and learn, move on and make the best of it! We’re not here to be perfect, we’re here to mess up and supposedly learn from these mistakes. Let us know when score 2 is complete 🙂
I’ve walked this fine line a long time now, trying my best to find something encouraging to say that is truthful and helpful. The best I can do is overly praise effort and hard work. Now that I have two who understand they will have to pay for college themselves, they are really putting in the work. And by now they have enough real successes that they can laugh at their failures (like I do). For a teenager, being able to laugh at failures is a big step toward independence.
Meanwhile, my niece is reliving my childhood. She’s been so good at everything, she’s afraid to try something new lest she not be perfect at it.
This is like the “Bill Gate’s 11 Rules of LIfe”:
Teach kids about them as quick as possible and they will be less frustrated and angry with the world!
It was really bitchy to say a developing child’s artwork was bad.
I went to a function last night at the local elementary school. I say “function” because I don’t know what else to call it. “Talent” contest is like calling a paper airplane a fighter jet. Kids were getting trophies and medals for sculptures that were literally just assembled Lego Play-sets. So, they got awards for… playing with their toys? The winners in the “singing” category plugged their iPod into the PA system and pantomimed along with Pharrell’s “Happy”, complete with forgotten lyrics and half-hearted arm movements. The whole thing was baffling. Glad I am not alone in my confusion. (Funny blog, Jenny!)