CANDY ALLAN: Why I tell my kids they’re not good enough
When I was in elementary school in the ‘80s, I dreaded field day — short, skinny, uncoordinated me against every other kid in my grade in contest after contest of physical skill.
Invariably, I’d be out in the first round, sitting on the grass while the more athletic kids duked it out for first, second and third place. First-place winners received blue ribbons; second-place finishers got red ones and third-place ribbons were green.
I got a purple ribbon.
Purple ribbons were for “participation.” Not for skill. Not even for choice — taking part in the annual awfulness was mandatory (Yes, I did ask).
Purple ribbons were intended to protect my fragile self-esteem, so I wouldn’t feel left out. In reality, they made me feel even worse — I was branded with a “loser ribbon,” which is what we kids called them.
We knew we’d failed. We knew the other kids — the ones with blue, red and green ribbons — won the contests. Those stupid purple ribbons didn’t hide that fact from us.
Making everyone a “winner” regardless of outcome just diminishes everybody. If my only goal was to get a ribbon — any ribbon — all I had to do was show up. In life, there are no awards for existing.
Competition is good for kids — and that includes losing. And failing. And being cut from the team. There’s been plenty written about the benefits of facing adversity in childhood.
Once kids grow up they become adults who have to hold jobs and pay bills and take care of themselves. If they’ve been told their whole lives they’re wonderful, they never fail and everybody’s equal, they’re in for a rough ride.
Competition saturates the adult world — when it comes to job interviews, most people trying out don’t make the team. The person who wants it the most doesn’t always get it. Growing up being told they’re wonderful only handicaps kids once they reach adulthood.
We have to let kids fail. We have to let them struggle — sometimes, we have to make them struggle. For example, I wanted to be in band in fifth grade. My parents let me. Later, when I discovered I wasn’t very good at music, I wanted to quit. My parents DIDN’T let me.
“School comes easy for you,” my dad said. “It’s good for you to have to work at something.”
Sometimes, you’re just not good enough. Sometimes, you should have worked harder. And sometimes, you’ve done your very best, so you can walk away from losing with your head held high.
The rule in my house for my kids? You have to work to your fullest potential and try your very best before I’ll be happy with the results. Approval depends on effort. An “A” you didn’t work for isn’t as good as a “C” you worked your butt off to earn.
For example, my son brought home a math paper where he’d gotten one problem wrong. Okay — except he got the problem wrong because he wasn’t paying attention and skipped right over the first question.
So, sometimes, I tell my kids their efforts just weren’t good enough. Try again.
Let’s be honest, I’ve been making up this parenting thing as I go along ever since my son was born. I know there’s more experienced parents out there and folks with different ideas. Respond to my column by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might see your thoughts in print in an upcoming issue of the Pioneer.