On Raising Kids as Resilient Individuals: Why does everyone get a trophy?

Pretty sure I’m going to get some opposition to this one, but stick with me ok? As usual, I welcome opposing views! My opinionated side is coming out here, so buckle up, or scroll on, your choice. I listened to an interesting podcast this week that got me thinking about parenting, some things I’m proud of, some I can do better, some parenting methods our society I am fond of, and some, I am not. It may sound contradictory, but hopefully, I can articulate my point well enough that it will not. I am not a perfect parent, and never will be, but have certainly learned a thing or two, which I’ll share here.

First: Let’s start by talking about individualism. I am a firm believer that everyone, yes everyone, has been given special and unique talents in this world, and that they have an opportunity (responsibility?) to share them. It can take some time to find that niche, and might come with some growing pains, but it is oh so worth it. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches and community members: YOU have an opportunity to build our kids up. That shy award kid in the corner? She might be the president of the United States one day. Talk to her, see what she’s interested in. That kid who dresses just a little differently than the rest? A phase? Who cares?! Great! Compliment their choices. We need differences in the world. (And by the way, I totally screwed up with my oldest daughter on that topic. I did not support her fashion choices during a certain phase, and if you’re reading this, I’m sorry). Uniformity is boring and doesn’t foster creative thinking or forward progress. Kids need our support, our love, and our guidance, especially when they stumble. And they need us to SHOW UP and be good role models. Me in kindergarten: TERRIFIED to go to school. Like physically ill at times. School phobia is apparently a thing. And you know what? It took just one amazing teacher to pull me out of my shell. She talked to me. She believed in me. I think I’m doing pretty ok now. You can be that person for someone.

Next: The concept of the trophy. The trophy is a metaphor and I’ll primarily discuss sports, but this can be applied in any area of life. Why oh why does everyone get a trophy all the time? Let me start by saying I LOVE me a trophy! I am super competitive, and I like to win. I like it when my kids’ teams win, and my teams win (go Jayhawks!). It’s fun and exciting. Sports, grades, performances, what have you, I think it’s worth celebrating hard work and success. BUT. Loss or failure isn’t the end of the world. It should be celebrated too. In fact, failure usually presents the best opportunity for learning and growth (and for you sports fans, the opportunity to develop great sportsmanship). And sometimes, oftentimes, failure results in a change better than you could have imagined. For example, take the kid that didn’t make the (insert sport) team. It can be heartbreaking for the kid, and the parent. Cry, be sad, be mad, that’s fine and great and understandable. But then move on. It’s all in how you handle it. Take it as a time to explore other opportunities. Perhaps getting cut from the team leads to an opportunity to participate in something else, and that something else is a life-long passion, the best thing ever! I’ve seen it happen, please believe it can happen! Hang in there, it will!

Don’t believe me? Hey you: Adult. Think back to a time when you lost, got fired, royally screwed something up, or said something you couldn’t take back. In the moment, it’s not fun. Sometimes REALLY not fun. It can cause self-doubt, shame, guilt, anxiety, and cause “what-if”-ing until the cows come home. Been there done that. But I’d venture to say, that if you look back at the times in your life when things didn’t go as planned, those might be the times you learned and grew the most. I can say without a doubt that’s true for me.

Showing up, having fun, working hard, trying hard, being part of a team, learning to work with others, learning to motivate yourself: all good things! Let’s keep it positive! Then why shouldn’t every kid get a trophy, you ask? Because we lose the opportunity to learn and grow. Because if we give a medal, trophy, or certificate, every time someone participates in something (or doesn’t for that matter), we are not building resilient humans with unique strengths. The word NEEDS people who show up fully, using their own beautiful, creative, and differing talents. Further, if we don’t let our kids try and fail, how are they going to learn to move through adversity in life? How will they find their passion? If our kids get out of high school and never had to work for anything, were never told “no”, or never failed at anything, how do you think “adulting” is going to go for them? Let your imagination run wild. I’m guessing the boss isn’t going to give praise for simply showing up to work every day, or showing up just when you feel like it. Perhaps I’m showing my generation, we’re notorious workaholics. I do believe in the value of hard work and dedication. I am not suggesting that slaving away for 40, 50, 60+ hours a week is the answer. And, in no way am I suggesting that we should demean a five-year-old who makes a mistake at a soccer game. That’s a whole other posting, and if that’s the take-home, then I’ve failed at making my point. I am simply suggesting that we say: “Did you have fun? Great. Lose? That’s great too (did you learn something?), and go get ’em next time and have some more fun!” Kids: Do what lights YOUR fire, not your parents’ fire.

To summarize: I believe that we can and should be kind, celebrate and build people up for their unique talents, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Yay individuality and diversity! I do not believe the way to develop a healthy, resilient, functioning individual is to coddle, over-protect, shield, and hand out a plethora of trophies. To develop resilient individuals, there has to be a combination of love and support, and learning and growing from our mistakes.

Don’t be afraid of failure, my friends. Keep going, keep trying and keep working towards the best and most resilient version of you. Do what matters to you! Try hard, and screw it up, why not? Be fearless! Be an example for your kids, pick yourself back up, and help them do the same. Take it from MJ:

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