The end of school year can be a confidence boosting or confidence battering time for kids. All their hard work is assessed, comparisons are made and rankings are given. If your child excels at academics, sports or the arts then it’s likely they’ll be receiving recognition for it, and it’s likely you’ll be congratulating them on their efforts too.
But is award time really such a big deal? And what about all the kids who don’t fit into one of those high performance boxes?
A certificate and handshake from your teacher is a great confidence boosting experience, for those who get it. Hard work and results should be recognised, as it helps children build their self-esteem. The more they see the positive outcomes from their efforts, the more they will learn to believe in themselves and trust in their abilities.
It follows that when kids believe in themselves, they are more likely to attempt new challenges and are less likely to take mistakes to heart. So awards can be helpful as they are an external carrot to motivate kids to work harder. The ultimate goal though is to develop their intrinsic motivation – the desire to do well because it makes you feel good inside – so awards should simply be a stepping stone, to help kids discover the good feeling that achievement produces.
However for a significant portion of children award ceremonies can be a reminder of their lack of achievement or lack of ability in relation to others. Once a child experiences this perceived failure several times, awards ceremonies can be a de-motivator. Just as those who do well learn they are good, those who don’t, can learn they are not.
To counteract this it’s vital we as parents develop their self esteem in other ways. School awards need not, and in fact, should not, be the starting place for growing a child’s self esteem. It needs to start at home.
So whether your child is or isn’t academic, sporty or arty, ensure whatever activities they do excel in are being recognised by you, no matter how trivial they may seem. As their confidence grows in any one area, over time it will leak into other areas.
As a case in point, I have a friend who has been helping her daughter practice reading out loud. Her daughter had been struggling with reading from a young age so she developed a game to help her improve. Each time her daughter stumbled over a word, pronounced a word incorrectly, or missed a word altogether, she would jot down a mark, with the aim of the game being to receive as few marks as possible. With a lot of encouragement and positive feedback, her child has not only learned to sight read incredibly well, but she has also developed a very impressive vocabulary and become a confident (award winning) public speaker.
It’s also important to remember that sure, accolades are great for confidence, but it doesn’t mean any child is a better person than anyone else. If your child is not being recognised by your school or sports club, it does not mean they will fail at life. After all, look around you. Do you know which of your friends was once school captain, athlete of the year, or just the 51% kind of guy? And is their current life an accurate reflection of their school achievement; are they happier, healthier, more successful? In the big scheme of life, an award only helps a child’s confidence, it doesn’t destine them for greatness. So it’s important we keep a balanced perspective. Our positive outlook is probably a more effective confidence booster for our kids than any school award could be.