My oldest son is 7 years old and has never been much of an athletic competitor. When he was little we enrolled him in swim, gymnastics, and karate to see if he would take to any of them. He didn’t. He preferred working with his hands instead. I mean at 3 years old he was assembling complicated Lego sets and Transformers (seriously, have you tried converting them from the car to the robot) for 6 years and up.
Eventually though, we did get him back into swimming just so he could be safe in the water since 9 times out of 10 we’re at the beach on the weekends. He’s still doing it after nearly two years, and now learning strokes and proper form. I’ve mentioned to him that he could join a swim team. That’s when he responded with, “Does that mean I get a medal?”
Ah yes, this medal business. He feels slighted that he’s never won a medal. His little brother is 5 years old and just got his first trophy for playing soccer – mind you every kid got a trophy, which is also annoying because he didn’t do anything special to get the trophy other than play soccer. Unfortunately for my oldest son, his swim teacher doesn’t award medals for completing classes.
And it doesn’t help that my 5 year old will flash his trophy to everyone who walks through the door. “Did you see my trophy?” he enthusiastically asks to anyone who comes over.
Then my 7 year old feels bad and goes into his tirade, “It’s not fair! Why don’t I get a trophy?!”
Ugh. Most of the time I just tell him that he will in due time. Maybe when he joins a swim team. Or when he wins a competition for building a Lego set or making origami (his other passion).
But one time I was so irritated because he was complaining it wasn’t fair. I actually told him, “To win a medal, you have to do something like play sports or enter a competition. Have you done that? No, you haven’t because you never want to. So if you don’t enter, you won’t get a medal.”
The instant I said, I felt bad. I never want to make him feel like he’s not good enough. He’s so talented but sometimes I feel like he prefers to sit things out because he doesn’t want to lose. I’ve tried telling him it doesn’t matter if he wins as long as he tries and participates.
Since then, if I hear my oldest son talk about not having a medal, I just tell him he will one day. He just needs to decide what he wants to win a medal in and then participate in something he likes.
We recently went to a kids birthday party inspired by the Olympics. There were competitions for soccer, ring toss, relay race, and kickball. In the end, everyone was awarded a medal, but my oldest son beamed with pride that he finally got his medal. He went on and on about it the rest of the day and really for the next few days about how he finally got his medal.
I was happy for him because truthfully he got his medal just like my middle son got his trophy: for participation. I have mixed feelings about awarding medals and trophies for participation. I think his should get medals for working hard and accomplishing something, not just participating. I think medal should reinforce the message that if you work hard and practice, then you can accomplish and win.
But in my oldest son’s case, it leveled the playing field with his little brother and made things fair. And it did break my heart a little bit that he didn’t have a medal. So I’m trying to use this opportunity to encourage him to try other sports or activities where he has an opportunity to compete and win – if he wants to get more medals.
Maybe there’s an origami competition near us that he can enter…
So what do you think? Should kids get medals and trophies for participating or only when they truly win something? What’s been your experience.
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