A prize les­son in bal­anc­ing ex­pec­ta­tion with re­al­ity

Nelson Mail - - Opinion - Elise Voll­weiler

My son won a prize in a colour­ing-in com­pe­ti­tion the other day. In the­ory, this is good news. When the text came through from Count­down, say­ing ‘‘Emme – I hope I’ve got that right [she hadn’t; our fault for giv­ing our kids weird names] – has won a prize’’, I said, ‘‘Oh!’’.

And then I said, ‘‘Oh dear’’.

The thing is, I’ve got two sons. They both en­tered the com­pe­ti­tion. The small one, who was the prize win­ner, wouldn’t have par­tic­u­larly no­ticed or cared if an ac­co­lade had gone his brother’s way. The big one would have.

Ear­lier this year, Emre also won a soft toy in a colour­ing-in com­pe­ti­tion at his kindy, and Ducky (who, now that I think about it, is most def­i­nitely a chicken) has been a prized pos­ses­sion ever since.

It’s not that he shows any for­mi­da­ble prow­ess at colour­ing-in, al­though he does ex­hibit an early ta­lent for form­ing cir­cles. For all I know, the win­ners were drawn out of a hat.

Maybe he’s just lucky. His kinder­garten en­try was snarled with Sel­lotape, and when I dropped it off to the spon­sor­ing real es­tate com­pany, I felt the need to sheep­ishly ex­plain that the tape was in fact part of his artis­tic vi­sion. When I walked back out to my car, I could see the staff gig­gling hys­ter­i­cally through the win­dow – as­sumedly in ap­pre­ci­a­tion, be­cause, well, he won Ducky.

From this ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever, my older son got it in his head that when you en­ter a colour­ing-in com­pe­ti­tion, you get a re­ward. Cause and ef­fect.

He com­pleted one when we were vis­it­ing my fam­ily down south a few weeks ago, and was most con­cerned about how they would get his prize to him when we re­turned to Motueka. (Moot point, in­ci­den­tally.)

I at­tempted to gen­tly ex­plain to him that en­ter­ing did not equal win­ning, but it prob­a­bly wasn’t my best or most at­ten­tive par­ent­ing, be­cause I’m pretty sure he still doesn’t grasp that the process is not quite that lin­ear.

Now, I’ve been as dis­parag­ing as any­one about the in­creas­ingly com­mon so­ci­etal theme that ‘‘ev­ery child wins a prize’’, but it turns out that it’s much eas­ier to keep your sneer in­tact when it’s not your own flesh and blood, full of hope and ex­pec­ta­tion.

I strongly be­lieve in the im­por­tance of build­ing re­silience in our chil­dren. I’m try­ing to keep my two wee snowflakes strong. They’re still so lit­tle, though, and haven’t re­ally been ex­posed to a world that judges their ef­forts be­side other peo­ple’s and gives them a pass or a fail.

De­spite this, the five-year-old al­ready cares about that stuff, more than I’d like him to. It comes from within him – he gets frus­trated if some­thing doesn’t turn out ‘‘right’’.

In his eyes, peo­ple have an in­deli­ble spe­cialty area in life, and that’s that. His skewed logic and ex­pe­ri­ence means that I have the la­bel of Best Fixer, be­cause I am the go-to for ripped book pages and bat­tery re­place­ments in toys.

I am also the Cleaner-Up of Spills and Dropped Items. Th­ese ti­tles evoke very dif­fer­ent feel­ings of pride and ir­ri­ta­tion in me – I hope I’m not too far off a pro­mo­tion.

Mean­while, his Dad knows ev­ery­thing about bees, ever.

Emre, at three, is the farm and trac­tor ex­pert, and so is the au­thor­ity on ques­tions such as, ‘‘Why do an­i­mals have tails?’’. (The an­swer, in case you’re cu­ri­ous, is that ‘‘if they didn’t have tails, they couldn’t swoosh them’’.)

A steady por­tion of my par­ent­ing time with my old­est is fo­cused around con­ver­sa­tions that the world isn’t made up of things that are right and wrong, and that all skills can be de­vel­oped with prac­tice and pa­tience.

Last week I led him into the kitchen so that we could ex­am­ine the frag­ile ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties of an iris in a vase, af­ter he scrib­bled out one of his draw­ings be­cause his flower petals weren’t the same size.

So that’s why I com­pletely over­thought the colour­ing-in sit­u­a­tion, los­ing per­spec­tive of whether I was sen­si­bly shel­ter­ing him or just be­ing a mol­ly­cod­dling cop-out for not want­ing to ad­here to the ba­sic con­se­quences of a sim­ple com­pe­ti­tion.

My part­ner’s re­sponse to it all was, ‘‘Well, we’ll just get Mil­lan a prize, too’’.

I’m still not sure if it’s the right de­ci­sion, but it was ex­actly what I was hop­ing to hear.

The next time we were at the su­per­mar­ket, Mil­lan cov­eted a P J Masks mug, and usu­ally he’d be given a flat no as the trol­ley was fer­ried briskly along the aisle.

On this day, how­ever, I stopped. ‘‘Well, love, you know how you both en­tered that colour­ing com­pe­ti­tion here? Well, Emre won a prize, and Dad and I thought . . .’’

I’ve been as dis­parag­ing as any­one about the in­creas­ingly com­mon so­ci­etal theme that ‘ev­ery child wins a prize’.

What do you do when your two chil­dren en­ter a com­pe­ti­tion and only one wins? Time for a les­son in re­silience – and a bit of peace­mak­ing.

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