Whether or not every child should get a trophy has been a hot topic of debate for a while now. But before we dig into it, let’s look at the importance of bringing the matter to light. Every experience, big or small, that a child goes through has a long-term effect on their psychology, cognitive development, and even brain structure! The kind of treatment they receive at their schools and homes is how they are set to treat themselves and others in the long run.
Worried about how losing may affect a child’s self-esteem, the system introduced this gesture to make every child feel worthy and that they matter. However good the intention may be, this idea of sugar-coating failure, when on one side, makes children feel good about themselves, it ends up making them feel like they deserve to feel good about everything all the time, on the other. This thought might pose a significant danger, not only to the child but also to society as a whole.
Purpose of a trophy
The purpose of awarding a child with the trophy is and always has been to make the child feel good about the achievement they’ve made and to make them realize how far they’ve has come.
Imagine a kid who joined a sport of her interest some time ago. The first time she played, she played as a learner. Just to be a part of it and to enjoy the spirit. She learned what she did wrong and how she could have played better. She worked. Hard. Practiced. Took feedback. Played several games, until one day she won one. And she receives the award for it, she receives it not for that game only, but for all the years she toiled hard. And she knows it. At this time, she knows she deserves to feel special, and there, the trophy in her hand does the job!
The Plot twist
As we read through the story of an athlete who worked and played for years to get to the place she is now at, we see how triumphant she feels. She feels proud of all the work she put in. But as she looks at the ground from the podium, she sees that every kid has a trophy in hand.
Suddenly, her sense of achievement drops down to a place of mediocrity. This feeling that she feels is not contempt, but it is a mere disappointment that comes with realizing that she is still like everyone else even after so much hard work. This brings the article to the first point:
Lost sense of competition
Healthy competition is essential for a kid to excel in life. To be better and to work harder. But when at the sports day, the kid gets an award almost similar to the boy who stood first in the race, the kid won’t feel motivated to work or to practice to get any better than he is now. What we will breed in the end is a generation that doesn’t know how to get better.
Wrong source of self-worth
We see that if the source of self-worth is wrong, no matter how high it gets, it will be highly destructive for the human being. Why are trophies the wrong source, you ask?
Every time a kid is given a trophy to make him feel like he matters, his brain will release happy chemicals and will make him believe that he needs to be rewarded in some way to keep his worth intact.
The opportunity for growth is lost
‘We grow through what we go through.’
This life is diverse, and it is full of overwhelming and underwhelming moments. To grow as successful human beings, we need to experience all of these moments and feelings as is. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable so we can learn how to deal with a problem. If that is something so important, why are we depriving our children of knowing one big reality of life? Do we not want them to grow into successful adults too?
When a human is young, his whole world constitutes his parents and his school. What he receives or is subjected to is what he expects to receive from the world as he grows up. The child takes this world of his and extrapolates it onto the big world he has to live in as an adult. If the child is rewarded for just showing up, the child will feel like he deserves to get that everywhere he goes. He will feel like the world owes him something. Although, the reality is the total opposite.
Hard work, why?
Yes, you guessed that right. Now that the children have the award and all the appreciation they want, it doesn’t matter if they still don’t know some rules of the game. A child lives for validation. He doesn’t know self-improvement or self-growth. He knows what mama, papa, teachers like. Also, he likes gifts.
They start believing that just because they participated in something and got a trophy, that’s all that’s needed. They start thinking that even if they don’t put in any input, they’re still going to get awarded. So why put in any effort at all?
Schools could spend the money somewhere else
A lot of children are underprivileged. They don’t even have all their books and some of the necessities. What use is the trophy for them if they feel generally deprived of the other essential things in life?
The money spent on the trophies can then definitely be channeled into providing a child with some scholarship or funding. This might raise off one of the biggest problems in the kid’s life.
Once they start feeling equipped enough, they can, of course, feel more accomplished when they win things.
Trophies lose their importance
What are trophies but some oddly shaped metal containers? The real importance of an award comes from the emotion of the victory associated with it. As the children grow up, they realize the failure of the system to have regard for the achievement, but they also see how futile the participation trophies are. Some students even see the ‘participation trophies’ as an insult.
The real sportsmanship may remain undiscovered
Sportsmanship is an essential attribute that a human gains by being a part of the sport. It includes accepting defeat gracefully and being genuinely happy for others. The spirit of teamwork and feeling for others only comes from the place of vulnerability, and if that remains undiscovered, what good is it?
A step into adulthood
As these children step into real life, they are met with disappointment and met with a hard blow, where they realize that they can’t always get what they want. This distorted thinking pattern can lead to mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and narcissistic personality disorder.
Not only this, it can be challenging for these individuals to live with someone because living with someone requires compromise and understanding, and these two just aren’t the things these children grew up with! Therefore, we can also expect the divorce rate to increase.
Solution: Make children feel worthy the healthy way
Look, at a young age, the best gift a parent can give to his/her child is validation. It would help if you showed affection to your children yourself. Talk to them, listen to their weird stories, tell them you love them, take out time for them, hug them, go to ALL their matches, and when they lose, here is what you should do:
- Hug them harder
- It would help if you told them that you are proud of them
- Tell them how much you appreciate their struggle and hard work
- Tell them you will always be by their side even if they lose
- Tell them IT IS OKAY to lose
- Let them grieve. Let them cry or rant. Whatever they feel like doing. Do not tell them to stop crying all of a sudden.
- Instead, tell them you feel their pain.
- Hug them even harder. As much as they want.
What the school can do
The school undoubtedly also plays an integral role in the child’s development. And it should be considerate of the child’s feelings, whether or not the child has won.
- The teachers should profess the idea that not winning is okay.
- They should help the children to believe that they are worthy irrespective of their grades or how good or bad they get at their game.
- Children with bad grades should not be looked down upon. Instead, they should be helped with humility and with a sense of belonging.
- Children should be taught to be happy with the process of working towards something and not always wanting to be the best.
- Children should be taught to be happy in the happiness of other people.
When the child is taught to look at failure in its eyes, they learn to be more resilient and see life with a broader, clearer horizon. They understand how important it is to learn from our mistakes and to accept when we are wrong. They begin to realize that life will not always be rewarding or happy; there will have to be times of utter disappointment too. And that’s okay.
In kindergarten, however…
We may explain to older children that failure is okay too. However, things may get quite tricky if you are faced with the task of explaining the same concept to a younger child. Children of the ages up to 6 tend to not look at the games or anything with a sense of competition. They just enjoy playing and the process of it, as is. At this age, there are almost no good players. Some kids love to run around and like listening to their friendly coach.
At this age, positive reinforcement of this kind may work. As the children play and get a trophy at the end, they look at it as an incentive to play even more and better. No one can deny how good sports are for the mind, body, and spirit, and if there is something that can make the children come to the games more often, then it is not a bad idea.
While giving all the kids trophies, the coach should have it in mind that whatever he/she does will have a direct effect on the child. Therefore, the coach should keep telling the children about the importance of practicing and getting better at certain things. He/she should also keep telling the kids how essential it is to have sportsmanship when dealing with other people.
Nonetheless, the children who practice harder or have athletic abilities should be appreciated more, so they recognize their skills and work even harder.
The idea of giving every child a trophy may sound right, but no matter how proper the intention behind this idea is, this poses a danger to one whole generation of kids. The kids deserve to feel worthy, but they also deserve to be taught the difference between achievement and mediocrity. No trophy or award should be responsible for their internal happiness or satisfaction. However, the sense of worthiness should come within for a more accomplished and happier life.