Friday, January 6, 2012

Throw Out the Gold Stars

When I began raising my daughters I was a proponent for the support of self-esteem development to the point of keeping them from situations that could be disappointing.  They received gold stars for making the bed, brushing their hair, being nice to each other. . . .   Bad idea.  I am still a believer that self-esteem matters, but my view has changed on how to be supportive, especially now that we are living in a world where everyone, even your child, is plugged in.

Technology and the internet are great tools that help us get a lot of our needs instantly met.  Kids, too, are able to satisfy most of their needs and desires through use these outside sources--resources found via the computer.  And I am sure you’ve experienced what occurs when the computer runs slow, or heaven forbid, Facebook is down—grunting, yelling at the screen, and the laptop snapping shut.  Is this how we want our kids to handle the failure of getting their needs met?

There are times when my daughter’s needs cannot be immediately met—Sally won’t be available to chat or her softball team loses the tournament.  She won’t always make the Honor Roll and I won’t always be home to fix the home network.   It is impossible to protect her from "losing" or "failing".  It's too exhausting and unrealistic.  And it causes the development of an emotional handicap, similar to not being able to handle the disappointment of hearing the word, "no".

In losing and failing, kids learn to deal with uncomfortable emotions.  When parents are there to be supportive when their child is experiencing uncomfortable emotions, the situation can prove to be an experience that increases self-esteem.  It teaches him that he is loveable no matter if he wins or loses and perpetuates his willingness to take healthy risks in the future.   More importantly, it prepares him to be ok with feelings that aren’t pleasant.  This is important because we do not want our kids to run from unpleasant feelings to drugs, alcohol, sex, the internet, food, and the like.

Losing is also an opportunity for children to explore their talents.  By all means, let your child try as many activities as she wants, but then use the not so successful experience to help her discern, "Is this my kind of thing, or do my talents lie elsewhere?"  If she always wins, how will she know what she does well?

And, no, we do not have to print out an award every time our kids complete a task.  Yes, when engaging in activities such as sports or theater, preparation and participation should be acknowledged as accomplishments because every activity requires self-discipline, commitment, and courage.  However, it is unrealistic to be extrinsically rewarded for every attempt our child makes (like getting a trophy for trying).  We must teach our children to honor themselves from a place within which supports the development of intrinsic motivation.  Otherwise, kids will only choose to participate if they are guaranteed a gold star.

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  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. I think that when our kid are little, we just want to do such things to reward and encourage them for trying and doing their best - gracefully - but where do we draw the line, and let them start experiencing the disappointments which will inevitably follow us all for the rest of our lives? (and without making it sound like life is just a series of disappointments, when it really isn't?) It's a lot to ponder.

  2. I read something similar many years ago, and find myself reminding it every time I compliment my child on something completely mundane. Encouragement includes learning how to fail and accept the emotions that come with it.

  3. yes..and the kids see through all the participation trophies they just paid for and didn't earn!!

  4. @momto8 Good point!

    @My Mercurial Nature It is difficult, though, because we want them to feel good about themselves. And it's difficult to see them hurting.

    @Kim Yes, we do not want to sound like life is a grueling task that is filled with impossibilities. Sometimes I remind them that just like happiness doesn't last forever, the uncomfortable feelings pass, too. Unpleasant feelings make happiness identifiable.

    Grateful for your comments! These conversations support our parenting!

  5. Great stuff. Are you going to see the speaker at CMEC next week? It's an internationally known guy who's speaking about this - children's self-esteem. Let me know if you want the deets.

  6. @Missy I saw the announcement for the speaker in the newsletter but there is a Bexley Schools thing that night. Glad he's coming to CMEC--wonderful. Thanks for visiting Sperk*! Always grateful for your presence.

  7. Another great, insightful post, Kim! Love this: "In losing and failing, kids learn to deal with uncomfortable emotions. When parents are there to be supportive when their child is experiencing uncomfortable emotions, the situation can prove to be an experience that increases self-esteem."

    Although it goes against our parental instincts to protect our children, we're not doing them any favor if we keep protecting them from disappointments or failures. As parents we must remember that our goal is to raise our children to become adults who would be able to stand on their own feet.

  8. @Sweaty It's always a pleasure to see you here!

    Thanks for your kind words.

    I agree, it does sometimes feel like I'm going against my instincts to protect the girls. . .but one day I realized that they just could not stand to hear the word 'NO'. And I thought, "That can't be healthy." Because as you said, they need to stand up, even when things do not turn out in their favor.

  9. yes! i am so over everyone praising their kids 24 hours a day!! we are raising losers!!!


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