Trophies for Everyone!

Having said all that — there’s no way I’m giving up the trophy The Five-Year-Old gave me last week for being The Best Mommyo Ever. Yeah, I earned it by just showing up. What’s your point?

This week I’ve been mulling over the emergence of the trophies for everyone approach to childhood. For those of you who may not have had or been children in the past five years,  it seems to be quite common these days to give everyone in the youngest set a trophy — the same trophy — at the conclusion of sporting events, competitions, and such, regardless of individual performance at said event. Everyone’s a winner. America has no losers under the age of 7.

Typing that up reminds me of an art competition at my elementary school. Everyone who showed up to draw a vase of flowers got a ribbon. But no one there was fooled into thinking that ribbon meant my drawing was anywhere near as nice as the one done by the girl who took home the first place trophy.

Still, my kid’s five. Getting a medal from her gymnastics coach to celebrate completing another a year of classes makes her ridiculously happy. And let’s face it, a lot of life is simply showing up, so I can see the value in rewarding that so kids learn to show up early. As long as we’re not still rewarding them for that relatively basic skill when they’re seven, eight, or nine and capable of doing much more.

Childhood development is a layering process. And I certainly appreciate how important it is to teach and reinforce life skills as well as more intellectual and athletic ones during that process. Our big goal for The Five-Year-Old for preschool was for her to learn to play nicely with others. Now that she’s got that down, our big goal for Kindergarten is for her to learn to sit at a desk and listen to her teachers, while still playing nicely with others. Reading, writing, science, and math? Gravy.

Yes, that will change. In first grade, we’ll demand more of her than simply showing up and being polite in the process. Our family lives in the reward-the-hard-work-and-actual-achievement camp. Ultimately, The Five-Year-Old’s going to have to learn the critical life skill of working really hard for something even if:

  1. there’s a good chance she still won’t get it
  2. no one notices when/if she does.

But that’s the advanced class. Possibly even a graduate level life skill. So for now, it’s ok with me if you want to give The Five-Year-Old bling for showing up.

Just don’t tell her she’s smart. I need her to learn to work hard for the things she wants out of life, and not assume that everything that’s worth anything will come easily to her simply because of her Very Great Brain.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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One Response to Trophies for Everyone!

  1. Pingback: Insightful things The Five-Year-Old says at 8:59 a.m. | CATERPICKLES

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