Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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Daughter to Disability; my one of a kind Dad

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My dad was always my number one fan and believed I could accomplish anything and everything. The best piece of advice he gave me was to try. I did not have to be the world’s best ballet dancer or the kid who scored the most goals on the soccer team, but if I was interested in something, I should try. If I hated it or failed, no big deal, I could stop, but only once the initial commitment came to a natural end. I didn’t have to be the best, i just had to try my best.

By encouraging me to carry on and follow through on a commitment, I learned the value of perseverance and honor. Staying true to your word is a valuable trait I hold onto to this day. It also means saying no when you know you can’t follow through. Saying yes to everything because you don’t want to let people down is a slippery slope to go down.

Germany, Summer 1996

I have many fond memories of my dad as a child, playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, being thrown in the air in the pool, and him allowing me and my sisters to style his hair with barrettes until he looked fabulous according to under ten selves. My dad was a loving but firm dad. He gave support, guidance, love, but we also knew when we crossed the line and would be subjected to a good old fashioned “dad talk.”

My dad was an FBI agent, which made him one of the coolest dads to have among my friends. I remember the sense of pride I felt when he would be a chaperone on a field trip come in for career day. I looked up to my dad in a way, and I imagine most young girls do. I was never a popular kid, geeky, awkward, and little chunky, but when my dad was around, I felt like the most popular kid in school.

Two of my favorite memories of my dad are related to those “serious” topics of drugs and dating. I remember he was sitting at our giant desktop computer in the living area, and I was in the kitchen microwaving something, and on the T.V., a commercial about talking to your kids about drugs came on. My dad looked up from the computer and said, “Do you do drugs?” I was roughly thirteen or fourteen at the time, I said, “No.” and he replied “Ok, good.” and that was that. The second was that he used to tell my older sister that he used his FBI skills to track any guy she dated. I was pretty sure this was false at the time, but I remember thinking, “Yikes!”

My dad had an excellent sense of humor and loved to pull our legs, as the expression goes. In the summer of ’92, we took a family vacation to Washington, D.C., and among the famous sites, he arranged a private tour of FBI headquarters for us. Little did I know that 15 years later, I would be living in D.C. and working two blocks from these same headquarters. During the tour, we were taken down to a basement level and told that this is where the Xfiles were kept!! It wasn’t until several years later that I realized there were indeed no Xfiles…. at least that we know of 😉

2008

My dad loved Indiana Jones, MacGyver, Crime dramas, Andrew Llyod Webber musicals, playing his guitar, and supporting his three girls in all our adventures, whether sports, musical theater, or learning a new instrument. He built us a treehouse and a lemonade stand. We went to Phillies games and out on daddy-daughter dates.

Circa 1983

In my early teens, my dad was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a condition being made more mainstream recognizable by the new T.V. show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. PSP is a condition that slowly creates the loss of your motor skills. It affects one’s ability to eat and swallow food, speak, walk, and perform essential functions for yourself. Over the next two decades, my dad held on much longer than any medical expert predicted. He carried on through bouts of pneumonia, a broken hip and pelvis, seizures, and depression. He received the diagnosis in his 40’s, much younger than people are typically affected. But even through this massive change in his and my family’s life, he continued to take joy in life and to be his children’s number one fan.

2012

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to go through this process, to experience the loss of the use of your body, nor would I try. But despite the adversity, my family and my dad had to overcome; I can say I was lucky to have the dad I did.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible men out there that make a difference in a child’s life, your presence matters.

To learn more about PSP please click here.