Participation and Praise

Girl Award


As we discussed last week, children gain huge benefits for being a part of something outside of the classroom. So this week I’m exploring the recent obsession with participation awards.

I must admit, my gut instinct is pretty negative and I would be lying if I said I was a fan of these!

The type of participation award that irks me is one that is for merely turning up. Awards that are too easy to achieve and that are given to every child lose value.  I fear that this attitude is misguided, fostering a need in children for excessive praise. While achievement is certainly not the only desirable outcome of engagement, instilling expectations for abundant positive feedback unrelated to the level of effort exerted can be very destructive.

If we are to lead a child to believe they are amazing in everything they do, the knocks of life will feel much harder in adolescence and adulthood.  Dr Judith Locke covers much of this idea in her recent article in The Courier Mail entitled ‘Seven rules for how to praise your children’.  Her pragmatic approach to praise ensures encouraging reality checks.  She suggests that praise be offered sporadically and realistically and she advocates that constructive criticism is needed so that a child learns to digest negative feedback.

Yes, praise needs to be given, yes, it is encouraging and yes, some children need more than others.  My concern is that rather than individually assessing each situation and child based on their needs, we as a society are erring on the side of caution and over-using praise.  As a result, children are forming an attitude and expectation that they deserve praise for everything, always.  

Unfortunately it doesn’t teach them the skills they need to navigate the grown-up world..

In real life we don’t receive a certificate to turn up to work everyday - our reward is wages.  If we don’t turn up, we don’t get paid. In real life, if we go for an interview but don’t get the job, there is no participation certificate for having a go for us to take to the next interview - instead we can ask for feedback, useful information to help us improve or interview better in future.  In real life we get knocked down, we aren’t and can’t be the best at everything - there’s always someone worse than us and unless we are world champions there’s always someone better!. The lesson is generally in the getting up, the dusting off and the moving forward… learning from mistakes rather than avoiding them.

Helping your child process and use feedback can often be a more meaningful experience than sticking a certificate on the fridge for a day or two (then letting it get swamped into insignificance by the other detritus of daily family life).  

Together we can raise resilient children!

How does this work in your family?  What do your children respond regarding awards? Do they see value in extracurricular participation awards?  Join us in The Village or drop me an email - we’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, this week’s download is a cheat sheet on the difference between awards and rewards.  If you’d like to get a copy delivered to your inbox, drop me an email and I’ll send it to you within 24 hours!

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