Let us be honest: from the time our children are born, they are basically told to think everything they do is wonderful, from that scribble we agree looks like an airplane (even though it could be a dog or a house) or the single pea they eat out of the 100 still sitting on their plate, to the outfit they put together we hope no one judges us for… Should I go on?
We, of course, want them to feel special, important and celebrate their efforts, even if the result does not warrant all of this positive feedback. However, is that really the best thing for our children looking ahead? An even more relatable example is sports, with years of trophies they have received, whether they won or lost. It’s that idea that they were rewarded, even when they didn’t deserve it.
My youngest is 5 and I am actually okay with him getting a trophy at the end of his soccer season. Granted, they were first in their league, but even if they were not, I would still support it. Why?
I feel at this age, it is so important to encourage them and recognize their efforts. In addition to their athletic abilities, we are recognizing them for getting their uniform on, getting out the door on time to make the game and a good attitude when they don’t score the winning goal. It is not just about the actual game (the destination) but getting there, too (the journey).
That said, at some point, reality needs to set in, from both perspectives. As our kids get older, the prizes need to be earned for sure, teaching them that not everyone is always a winner and educating them that not everyone is the best at what they do. They need to be prepared to handle the losses. As parents, we do as well. If our children are used to being amongst the best, whether in regards to sports, academics or anything else, how are they going to feel when they are not number one, two, or even three?
This may be uncharted territory. Negative thoughts will swirl around in their head.
“Wait, I am not the greatest on the team?”
“I don’t like this new feeling of having to keep up.”
“It doesn’t feel good to be inferior to my classmates.”
What can we share with our children to help them understand their new truth?
“No one is perfect.”
Everyone has struggles that need work in order for them to improve. Even the best athletes practice every day to get better. If the destination is more difficult than usual, prepare your child for the journey, no matter how challenging, and find a way to get there.
“You can’t be the best at everything.”
There are certain activities that your child is not going to be the best at. This is a good lesson for now and for the future. It does not mean they cannot strive to be the best that they can possibly be and put in the hard work needed. Certain things in life take hard work and they need to learn that not everything comes easy. The bigger the journey, the bigger the reward.
“It’s okay to feel nervous and uncertain.”
If your child is used to feeling confident in an activity, such as sports, it can be a huge change when they experience the other side. They may not be equipped to feel this way and associate this uncertainty with automatic failure. They need to realize that many of the kids on their team or in their class are feeling this way and it is natural.
“Things aren’t always going to come easy.”
At some point, they will come to the realization that they are not great at everything. They may not be in the highest math group, the game’s MVP or even at competing with their siblings, but it is okay. There are all different levels at everything they will do, whether on the field, at school or at home. This will occur as they get older when they have a career and as they have children of their own. With hard work, they can be the best they can be.
“It’s important not to compare yourself to anyone else.”
It does not matter what your child’s best friend is doing, it matters what your child is doing. This is a tough concept since every child wants to be part of a group and feel included on all levels. It is not about being as good as or better than a peer, but being the best your child can be compared to himself.
“You don’t quit because you are not the best.”
Quitting is never an option and just because they are not the best, does not mean they should not try to be. The confidence will come when your child realizes that with a little effort, they can conquer anything. They may not be the best but are they enjoying themselves? Feeling challenged is not always a bad thing.
Share your own experiences as a parent.
Our children look up to us and if they know we have struggles, it will feel more normal for them as well. Perhaps sharing a story about when we were in school or on a sports team, in a school club, etc., our kids will realize that not everyone is indeed perfect. It is important to share how we dealt with the feelings of second fiddle to give them ideas on how to handle their own emotions. What tools did we use back then? Can our children utilize these same tools in their situation?
It never feels good to watch your child struggle and get emotional about those struggles. We want our children to feel confident but perhaps a little uncertainty is good every so often. It keeps them on their toes and teaches them the lesson that not everything will come so easily in life. It will prepare them for now and in the future.