My daughter recently participated in her first school athletics carnival. We were both excited. She was excited to have some fun with her friends, testing out her skills and I was excited to hang out with the other parents, cheer the kids on and watch them tackle some new challenges.
As a Mindset Focused Parenting Coach, our morning started with some big growth mindset chats to prepare for the carnival, and our daily affirmations. Then everyone headed off to school in a positive state of mind ready for a fun day!
But what followed, was less than positive…
Thankfully, it didn’t have anything to do with the children and they all had a wonderful day! Instead, it was the events that ensued in the crowd which were mind-blowing.
To give you some context…
The carnival was a Prep to Grade 2 event, so I’m talking about kids aged approximately 5 to 7 years old. They participated in all the usual athletics events, including high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin, hurdles, sprints and relays.
The kids had received maybe one lesson on each activity before the carnival and no event was being measured accurately.
Instead, the focus was on all kids filing through, each having a turn.
At the end of the first rotation, the Coordinator announced that the teachers at each station could present 1st, 2nd and 3rd ribbons to a child who had shown great skill, attitude, effort or any of the school values during their participation in that event.
Sounds harmless, but this is where the day turned sour.
The events that followed.
Parents became enraged, from all angles.
There were the parents who believed that only the true winners should be receiving awards. These were typically the parents who thought their child was by far the best. They argued that giving the 1st ribbon to a child simply because they showed effort was misleading that child into thinking they were the best at the sport.
Then there were the parents who believed that all children should be receiving a participation ribbon. These were the parents who knew that their child was never going to be the best, but was out there having a good crack and have a blast of fun doing so!
Then there were the parents like me, caught completely off guard and needed a moment to process my thoughts on this situation…after all, we were talking about creating competition in children super young!
Here’s what I decided…
After doing some research into the science (because that’s what I do!), I was able to compile my thoughts as follows.
- No, I don’t believe that all kids should get a participation ribbon.
- I also don’t believe that at this young age they need to clearly point out who the winners are at each event and take the fun out of the day.
Let me explain.
At this very young age, our focus needs to be on teaching our kids that they can step outside of their comfort zone and try new things. We need to be there to support them and show them when things are tricky they can seek help and ask questions to learn and grow. For example, if they don’t know how to hold the javelin, they can ask someone to show them.
If we formalise winners at this age, we run the risk of rewarding natural talent. Many children at this young age have not yet undergone any official training, nor have they worked hard to develop their skills in a particular activity. This means that the children who are measured to come 1st, are likely doing so on natural ability and early childhood experiences, which are beyond the control of the child.
If we reward natural talent, we not only disadvantage the kids who miss out by reinforcing a message that says you’re not good enough but we also disadvantage the naturally talented child by sending a message that says you are just naturally good at this so you don’t need to train, practise or work hard.
This response ultimately limits the self-belief of both children and instils a fixed mindset message which says I’m good at some things and not good at others.
So what can we do?
- Offer every child who participates in an activity a small encourager (such as a sticker) with an important verbal message of encouragement and support from an adult to say “I saw you try really hard and you gave it your best, well done! You should be really proud of yourself for having a go.” This helps build confidence in the child that they can have a go and removes the fear of judgement or fear of not being the best. It places the focus on effort and learning.
- Offer 1st, 2nd & 3rd place ribbons to the winners of the sprint race only. I say this because while we want to be building kids’ self-belief, self-confidence and growth mindset, we also need to be building their resilience. That means showing them that they won’t always be the winner, but that if they work hard, practice, put in the effort to learn and take on feedback from others, they can achieve their goals. The children can already visually see who won the race in the sprint, so it provides the perfect platform to build this resilience through an open and honest growth mindset conversation.
What are your thoughts? Should all kids be a winner at this young age?
Follow me on Instagram for more Mindset Focused Parenting, @mindtraction_themindsetmama
This post was previously published on Medium.
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