Dawn is the creator of the new Parenting Tool/ Toddler Toy called Capables. She is also CEO and Founder of The Heart Link Womens Network, Trova Women Business Directory and Trova Small Business Directory and The Heart Alliance.com international women's networking organizations and communities.
I went to a children’s soccer game not to long ago. I heard one of the coaches explain, “We are ALL WINNERS. That is why we are not going to keep score.”
Who was he kidding? Not the kids. They definitely kept score and knew who were the winners of the game and who were the losers.
We are addicted to telling our children how special they are. Then we give them ALL a trophy. It doesn't matter whether they played or not, whether the team won or lost, or even if they came to all the practices; everybody gets a trophy. Why? “Because they are just children,” I have been told. “They should not have to experience the pain of loss when they are so young.” I disagree. Children are not fragile. They are amazing, bright, and capable and with our help they can develop the kind of internal fortitude they need to not only survive, but also thrive in life.
Call me hard-hearted, or tell me I expect too much from children, but I have seen time and time again what children can do if we get out of their way, untie those velvet ropes holding their wings down, and let them soar. Children, like baby eagles, will amaze you with how high they can fly once they are pushed out of their nests. Pretending to protect our children from the suffering of loss doesn’t strengthen them. It weakens them.
Pretending not to keep score, or giving away token trophies does not inspires anyone to new heights of improved performance, and it certainly does not build self-esteem. How valuable can a trophy be if your effort has no impact on the reward? Life is full of inevitable disappointment and loss. It is imperative that our children learn that loss, or failing is not the end of the world. In fact, our children need to learn that success is built on failure. Recognition must follow an effort or action for it to have any meaning. We've long been told that as parents, we should build our child's self-esteem. But meaningless and unwarranted praise actually tears down self-esteem, instead of building it up.
If you're a manager, you've probably also been coached in how to give positive feedback. Positive reinforcement and recognition are important. Whether you're 5 or 45, we can appreciate, and benefit from, recognition and commendation. But the "You're so special for doing absolutely nothing” movement does more harm than good.
The "self-esteem" movement began with good intentions. People who were raised by parents who only noticed the one B, instead of the four A’s decided they would not do that to their children. They assumed that they would have been happier, and done better in life, if they'd been given more positive reinforcement. So we tell our kids they're wonderful all the time. But is that the truth? Do our children believe us when we say it, or do they think we are lying to them.
The problem is, when you praise mediocrity, there's no way to distinguish excellence and outstanding effort, over average participation. If losers get the same reward as winners, your child begins to wonder, “What's the point of challenging myself to be a winner?”
Kids aren't stupid; they know it when you're feeding them a line. Empty praise leaves them untrusting of what you say and they can be in danger of becoming like Peanut M&Ms with no peanut inside. They look all shinny and delicious on the outside but they feel empty on the inside because there has been no struggle to fortify them and prove to them who they are, and what they are made of. Some pain and stress is good for us. The pain of losing can inspire us to try harder, become stronger and do better.
The challenge as a parent, or a boss, is to become proficient at validating the inherent worth and dignity of the person, but also give them accurate and honest feedback. Validating the inherent worth and dignity of a person is simple – treat them with respect. Show them the kind of respect you expect to be shown. The problem today is that people are so used to being lied to that they often interpret accurate and honest feedback as disrespect. As a parent, boss, or manager, you must be clear that you understand the difference. Telling someone the truth in a disrespectful way diminishes its value.
Being honest is not unkind. Truth should always be given as the gift it is. We need to be able to tell people the truth, be they kids or colleagues, and they know that we have their best interest at heart. People need to gain the confidence to receive truth with a humble heart. Unless we are willing to listen, carefully evaluate what we are being told and with self-reflection, evaluate the information and use it to become better and stronger, we can never be the champions we are destined to be, the champions who are worthy of trophies.
Building self-esteem isn't about pretending people are winners at everything they do. It's about providing truthful opportunities to build the internal fortitude people need to persevere. NOT failing does not determine our greatness. It is always our ability to recalculate and rebound when we fail. Self-esteem is about the content of our character, the dedication in our hearts to succeed at living our dreams, and our determination to keep on keeping on.
Don’t give your child worthless trophies. Instead, allow your child enough challenges that they begin to believe in their ability to overcome them, enough pain, so that they can recognize what pain feels like and have compassion when they see it in others, enough sadness, that they never forget to appreciate happiness, and enough loss, that they know what being a winner really means. Pray that your child looks at their lives and after careful reflection and honest assessment; they know they are winners – trophy or no trophy.
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Dawn L Billings is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles on parenting, relationships, entitlement and networking and an ardent advocate for womens and children's issues. Dawn is the CEO and Founder of The Heart Link Womens Network, Trova Women Business Directory and Trova Small Business Directory, The Heart Alliance.com international women's networking organization and online community, and the creator of the new parenting toy/tool called Capables. In 2008 Dawn was selected by Oprah Magazine and The White House project as one of 80 emerging women leaders in the nation. Find out more and buy Dawn's books To learn more about women networking check out our videos