Participation prizes’ unintended consquences

Posted on October 8, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Every child is special.  Every child has a gift.

Yes, but does that mean we should always give out prizes to everyone?  And should we treat all kids the same?

My kids got participation trophies in recreational soccer all through elementary school.  It didn’t take them long to figure out that those trophies weren’t really anything to celebrate.   The kids saw through the parents’ attempts to make every child feel good about himself.

Last month, Tamara Hall wrote a column in the Bozeman Chronicle on this topic, in which she pointed out there are three outcomes of artifically rewarding all students for participation and pretending that there are no differences among them:

  1. “Children learn through their own powers of observation that some students are smarter so they conclude that adults are lying to them.  They begin to distrust the very people who should be roles models for truth.
  2. “Children believe the lie and spin themselves into exhaustion trying to accomplish the impossible.  When they eventually discover they are not the best and the brightest, they are overwhelmed by a sense of failure, shame and depression.
  3. “Children believe the lie and embrace a sense of entitlement.  They expect a positive outcome, regardless of performance.  When faced with less than expected outcomes, their sense of entitlement morphs into victimization.”

Contrast those lessons with the ones kids learn from not winning:

  1. Take pride in doing one’s best
  2. Congratulate those who won
  3. We will love our kids no matter the outcome

I get frustrated with teachers who say “all kids are gifted” as an excuse to treat none of them as gifted.  Maybe we parents need to stop insisting that all kids get treated as winners in all circumstances, and instead start teaching our kids how to be gracious losers.  Maybe that will give teachers permission to start treating kids differently based upon their needs, accomplishments, and abilities.


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