We are living in an age where red pens are not allowed to be used by some teachers in schools because the ink gives the wrong message. We are also living in a time when everyone on a youth sports team receives a trophy no matter the team’s record or the child’s contribution. Finally, we are living in a moment where teachers aren’t allowed to fail a child in some schools. I don’t have the definitive answer as to when recognition should be given. That answer comes down to your core values as a parent. What I can do though is to tell you how the best parents I have ever seen work with this issue and how your humble writer approaches the issue with his own children.
I believe that recognition should be earned. Let me give you an example as to why I have this basic belief. My oldest son has been involved in sports for several years. After every season, he is given some type of trophy. Truthfully though, he could care less about any of them. If I took all of his trophies and threw them in the trash, odds are any tears I might catch would be short lived.
Now, allow me to compare my child’s trophies to some of mine. Although they are in storage, I still possess a few of my trophies from childhood. The reason is simple. It’s because I had to earn them and they have meaning. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t break them out at parties and boast to my friends but I think you get my drift. So what does this have to do with children earning recognition?
I want children to earn my recognition because when they do; it holds meaning. Once a child earns my recognition, they’ll do the same quality behaviors in order to receive it again. Contrarily, I’ve seen many parents over the years give recognition when their child does the most minor of things. But I can read a child’s eyes clearly. Each time a parent has done that, the child didn’t show any signs of appreciative acknowledgment. Even with a shy child, it is pretty easy to tell whether they respect the recognition they are given.
Another interesting point to this is that the age of the child doesn’t seem to matter. Based on my experiences; giving meaningless recognition to a 4 year old garners about the same result as giving meaningless recognition to a 15 year old. I have been the authority figure in the lives of over 400 children. My words and actions had to hold meaning to all who I have worked with. If they didn’t, I risked losing respect from the children who were in my care. To put this point another way- I believe that (bit by bit) parents loose respect from their child when they give recognition which is not earned.
The best parents I have ever seen were fellow co-workers at St. Joseph Children’s Home in Louisville, Kentucky. Across the board, I can tell you that while children earned recognition for their good behavior, grades, and deeds; the house parents there were not the type to blow a lot of smoke if you know what I mean. Our job was to get the children ready for loving foster homes and adoptions. In order to accomplish this, we had to be as open and honest with the children as possible. I really feel like this attitude was one reason we had so many successful placements.
I had the same attitude about earning recognition when I was a teacher in an inner city school. The same attitude has also served me well while raising my two boys. I understand that we all want our children to feel good and shield them from pain with our words at times. But, the long term price we pay when children no longer believe our shallow words is far greater than the short term disappointment a child may feel when we are simply being honest.
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