Ribbons for Participation? Good or Bad?


Should our children be receiving participation certificates? I have not entered the heated debate but here are my views on the idea.

I think genuine praise for having a go should always be there. And anyone can argue that a ribbon trying to make it a big deal is important or destructive.

When kids are young, they are very impressionable. So when you use a visual and tangible award for them to associate that winning is about being in the game first and that learning how to get better with the experience is then a necessary part of the process of succeeding, this can’t be a bad thing.

However, at some point you have to encourage a child to lock that in as the bare minimum and awards for participation should be phased out in some meaningful way. In a way so the child understands that s/he has grown up and reached an exciting new level as a brave young man or woman who always has a go.

At what point do you phase it out though? I think it is less about a specific age and more about an individual’s level of awareness and emotional maturity. You would think that by the age of 8 a child’s reasoning can handle this, but I am not sure whether enforcing it overall would work well. There are likely experts who could help work out the phasing-out timing and parameters.

Most adults whom I coach do not participate at all in the areas that are out of their comfort zones. What would have happened to them if they were young and were taught to associate value and inner worth with the courage to have a go? My work with them is to re-associate their identity outside of failure and able to embrace that a major part of life and success is always learning.

So there is a lot to be said about the damage being done to us because the win-or-get-nothing culture is so strong in our society. But the truth is, we are not supposed to get nothing when we lose. We are always supposed to gain the vital information about why we failed and then take responsibility and the actions to improve.

Here is a recent EP7 Podcast called Fear of Failure where co-host Rachel Donovan and I discuss the value of failing and how one cannot lose with the right attitude: http://ep7podcastchannel.libsyn.com/fear-of-failure

This is a recent quote inspired by a client session: “If you are right, you win. If you are wrong, you win. The truth will always set you free.”

Then an FB comment which I had posted later that day in reply was “What is truth? My truth may not be your truth” – I am paraphrasing the quote. There is a truth, and it is our responsibility to find it. That truth is always about, “What can I believe that will guide me to good decisions that will deliver consistent success, attracting the experiences I want to have?” If you are not getting what you want, then you obviously are missing the truth that would empower and serve you to know and make sound decisions.

Our children are too precious for us as adults to be arguing about how to parent them. We ought to sort out the polarised thinking that keeps us from the truth. This swinging from one extreme of laying the cotton wool on thick and lowering the bar to ground level can hinder the resilience of a child and make them hyper-sensitive to criticism. They will avoid achieving their big dreams because they are likely to habitually avoid the challenges through their entire lives. They end up refusing to play in the arenas that their heart would be thrilled by.

And to the other side of the swing, which slips into the cruel abuse of a child still trying to grapple with her or his sense of identity. Still trying to work out what much of this world is all about yet having a bar raised too far beyond a developed capability. This can traumatise a child into self-doubt, self-loathing and eventual apathy. These children end up achieving a lot but struggle to feel satisfied because that inner worthiness is never solved by the determination to win at all costs.

I say: give them enough ribbons so they develop a rich relationship with stepping up and embracing the journey of succeeding through failures. Then remove the ribbons so they do not need the encouragement to give life their all, but continue to give them the feedback of the difference they’re making so they continue to remain passionate and motivated to evolve.

May we grow together to create the environment that allows our children to grow into their potential as well.

So I want to ask you: how would you want your children to be encouraged and what do you think it takes to develop them to make the best of their lives?

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