A young mom queried me intently after our talk on Entitlement in kids. “What do you do about the culture around us that guarantees that every child is a “winner” at participating and receives a trophy, even for last place?”
We commiserated about how rampant this attitude is, that dispenses trophies and stickers and stars and ribbons ad nauseum to make sure no one feels bad, and puts caps and gowns on kindergarteners for conquering a rigorous academic year.
So practically, how can you respond to this widespread attitude of trophy entitlement? Here’s what I told Jill.
1. Identify the messages being communicated
A parent’s first step to a wise response is to contemplate the messages being communicated to their child in the situation (whether by themselves, others, media, etc.). Jill and I talked about what comes along with that shiny hunk of gold plastic, given just for showing up, and started this list of messages that our kids may learn:
- “You need a trophy to feel okay about yourself if you didn’t win.”
- “Losing/failure is a bad thing that means you are less valuable.”
- “It’s an adult’s job to solve any difficult feelings you have about losing.”
“So what can you do about that?” she asked. Good question…
2. Ask wisdom-building questions
I responded to Jill’s question with another one: “What kind of questions could you ask your child to help them gain wisdom and perspective?” When we ask our kids questions, we help them to be aware of and think about the messages they’re receiving. This way, we can use unhelpful cultural messages as a valuable teaching opportunity.
Here are a few questions to build wisdom around participation trophies, failure, and winning:
- What do you think makes people valuable?
- Does a trophy make people more valuable? Why or why not?
- How might God use losing or failing at something as a valuable lesson or character builder?
- How can you deal with disappointment or discouragement when you have those feelings?
To spark a good conversation, don’t quickly fill in the pat answers if your kids struggle – tell stories or ask more questions. None of us likes the “respond to the question and then I’ll tell you the right answer” approach, so work to have a truly open conversation, affirming whatever wise or creative perspectives they express. (In your discussion, also remember to honor the kind intentions of the trophy givers.)
3. Share your own experiences
After the kids express their ideas in response to your questions, you can share your own stories of losing or failure, and how God used that in your life. Talk about times when you have hung on to God’s love for you when you were tempted to believe you were a “loser” or a “failure.” This will help kids to be familiar with and think through real-life examples of the wisdom and character you hope to build in them.
So when you encounter any kind of “cultural craziness”, whether it be about participation trophies, trashy TV shows, or commercials that tell us our value will swirl down the toilet if we don’t buy their stuff, don’t be frustrated or cranky. Seize the opportunity to build wisdom in your kids!
Apply it Now:
- What are the subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages being communicated about where value and life come from?
- What kind of questions could I ask my child to help them gain wisdom and perspective?
- When have I struggled with this issue or a similar one, and what God has taught me that I could share with my child? What scripture has helped me or applies to this?
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