A prize lesson in balancing expectation with reality
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.