Do You Believe In “Participation Awards” For Your Child?


I got a lot of great insight from you guys in regards to my ballet class disaster (and a comment from Nancy who called the blog “absurd.” Ouch. I disagree, but she also made some good points so I won’t totally rant on her).

I’m happy to report that we went to the new class and it was oh-so-much better. Fia still didn’t want to let go of my hand, so in my ratty converse and yoga pants, I got to plie and spin with a bunch of little girls while their parents looked on–bored. We even brought Olivia the pig, since I told her it was an “Olivia approved class.” Yes, maybe I am taking this all a bit too far.

At the disaster class I wrote about how she stuck out like a sore thumb in her purple tutu. I said this time I was going to get her an outfit that was more in line with the others. She is wearing it above. It is adorable, and yes, more typical of a ballet outfit.

Nancy’s comment said: “Jill, you admitted to projecting your feelings on to your daughter. She feels bad because her outfit is a different color? She feels bad about herself when you leave? I do not think she felt any of that; she is too young for that much self-examination. And as soon as you get home you order her the perfect dance outfit? I have gone on enough. I guess you get my points.”

But then Julie made me feel a little better when she said: “There is nothing wrong with getting her daughter a new pretty outfit with a splash of originality. The reality is that from a VERY early age children who express originality are separated from the group and they CAN most certainly understand this is happening.” 

I think I agree with you both. Part of it is my projecting. But I don’t think it hurts for a semi-shy kid to initially fit in a little more while she finds her groove. Of course I had to laugh when we got to this new class. Half the girls were in pale pink. The other half? In aqua blue and bright orange tutu’s.  Maybe I just need to stick to my hip hood for classes since the disaster class was in a less hip area of the city.

About half way through Fia wanted to leave, but I told her we had to stay until the end. She continued to whine, but I just stayed the course.

“Fia, we don’t quit. We will leave when it’s over,” as I glanced at the clock, appalled to realize we still had 27 more minutes.

When it did finally end though, I praised her for staying through the whole class. For the next two days she talked about how much she loved it and how, “Mama, we stayed until the very end too!” I think I’ve decided if the class is good and the teacher doesn’t suck then we at least need to see it through to the end.

The great thing about this class is you don’t have to make a commitment. You can just drop in. So we’ll try it a few more times and if she isn’t into it, or too young, then we’ll stop.

But before I sign off, I want to pose another question that Julie brought up. She said:

“…While 3 is a bit young to worry about being a quitter for life, I do think it is absolutely right to question the decision to make sure you aren’t simply removing all challenges from your child’s life. Because even at 3 a child can learn that complaining means they don’t have to do something. (I also don’t believe kids should get participation “awards” but that is a totally different subject).”

But on that subject, I’m curious: After each swim lesson, Fia goes in the office and picks out a treat.  After gymnastics she gets stamps from the coach if she participated and listened well. This week we hit the bookstore first and I got her a coloring book. I told her she couldn’t draw until after she participated in swimming and gymnastics (they are back-to-back on Monday).

In gymnastics she initially didn’t want to jump. I had the coach tell her she had to if she wanted to use her new coloring book. She suddenly became the most active participant there. And in such good spirits to boot! She was waving at me from afar, giddy and laughing with the other kids, etc. So is what I’m doing considered a “participation award?” And if so, is that a bad thing?   I certainly don’t want a kid who only does things with an expectation at the end.

So continuing this debate on how far to push your child: What is too much?  Are things like stamps, stickers, treats and coloring books considered a reward? Bribery? At 3, how much does that matter?

I await your comments. Even Nancy’s. Just don’t call my questions–or this blog–absurd.

Fia and Olivia: Proud, post-class!


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  1. by k

    On March 6, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Oh my, could she BE any more adorable?? I also have a three-year-old girl, and I go back and forth on this issue, so much! When you train a dog, you give them a treat every.single.time they follow a command in training, then gradually wean off as they are trained. That’s just how they learn–this is the expected behavior, you will be rewarded for displaying it, until it becomes a habit. I think some of this applies to kids as well. (Hoo boy, I just compared toddlers to dogs–haters gonna hate on that one). But at this age, I think it’s great to teach perseverance, and model it, of course, but until it becomes a conditioned response, and they are old enough to see the inherent benefits for themselves, you have to provide external motivation. The same applies, I think, to all other traits we try to instill in our kids to make them, well, people worth being around when they grow up. So, if I reward my kid by reading a book every single time she helps pick up her own toys, or giving her a sticker for every single class she finishes, I think she’s learning, in terms she can understand currently, that good things come when you help, perseverate, etc. When she’s older, those rewards will just be a little different–happiness, fulfillment, success in life.

  2. [...] Do you believe in “participation awards” for your child? ( [...]

  3. by Kim

    On March 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Not for simply participating, no, but for displaying the behavior we have been teaching him WITHOUT being prompted is another story. Our son is 2 and when he does an exceptional job, or surprises us with good behavior we haven’t taught him yet, he gets praise and some form a award. He doesn’t respond to negative feedback, like a swat, so we snatch the positive reinforcement as often as possible. He just gets praise for a good job when he has to be reminded or prompted repeatedly.

  4. by Julie

    On March 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Jill – Thanks for the compliments. Honored to have sparked a conversation. I agree with the other who are commenting – rewarding good behavior or having an incentive system isn’t a “participation award.” To me participation rewards go to folks who just show up, there is no goal, benchmark, challenge or competition. In little league if everyone who plays gets a tee-shirt GREAT, that is an incentive to show up to play, but our league eliminated the idea of there even being winning teams, so where is the incentive to try and learn or achieve? Not that sports are the best analogy for life, but the same happens with twirling and gymnastics class – kids show up they get a treat, but the ones who try really hard don’t get any extra special recognition so they end up not bothering after a few sessions.

    I should also say I agree with the comment that Fia couldn’t be cuter! She looks great in both ballet outfits. What a smile. And I love that Olivia got to go to class too!

  5. by Nancy

    On March 7, 2013 at 8:47 am

    We all work for incentives, like raises, a bonus, recognition for jobs well done. Sounds like you moms have a good understanding of this issue, with individual standards, but the same idea.I do agree that full participation and good behavior should be considered when handing out the prize. Your kids are so young, but when they get to be the age of independent cooperation things change. When you expect your 7 year old to put his clothes where dirty clothes go, and he responds with,” what do I get”‘ a different story. But I regress. What I do protest strongly is the idea that “no body wins”, and everybody gets a prize, or a trophy! Lets face it, winning deserves rewards. Winning feels good.. But mostly that seems to happen in sports, so another conversation for another time.
    Jill, sorry about using such a strong word before.

  6. by jill cordes

    On March 7, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Ladies! I love that we have more convo going on that. I like all the insight…so much so I may just have another blog on it all. I think it is ridiculous to have a game (like little league) where everyone wins. Just like I find it absurd to have “graduation” from preschool, and every grade on up. I graduated twice: one from high school and once from college. So now I’m onto another idea..

    Kim and K–so happy for your insights as well! Nancy–I’m so glad you stepped back in to the fray. I think your comments are really sound. And Julie, you too of course.

    Lastly, I agree: she really is adorable. But have you seen her new haircut? Look at post tomorrow (Friday). She kills me….

  7. by sinikka

    On March 24, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    I think for younger children the participation rewards are great, sometimes they need those to stick with something they find hard at first, and not give up. Our soccer league to me is a good example. The kids under 6 no one wins or looses, the under 6 and under 8 all get trophies. But I do think as kids get older the participations rewards become less and less appropriate because they do have to learn that throughout the rest of their lives they wont always get everything they want just for participating. In our soccer league the kids 8 and older only the first and second place teams get trophies.

  8. by Marina

    On April 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    She is very cute! Looks very happy too! I guess you just have to pick your battles. I would bribe my child for the bigger stuff like getting ready faster or going to the store. Because those are mandatory and I know this is always a loosing battle on my end. Not always, but some days are just hectic. I do want her to enjoy participation in activities, like gynastics and story time. I have a 3 time rule. We will go 3 times and if by the end of her 3rd class she doesn’t like it we may reconsider going (maybe it’s just not her thing). With that being said,she did cry at the drop off YMCA for 2 months every time I left her there. I kept taking her anyway, and the reward was going to the pool afterward. Now, she loves going there and we don’t even hit the pool.

  9. [...] her. That’s why I’m against giving rewards for every little accomplishment. Or when they play team sports and “everybody wins.” Kids need to learn how to lose. Just like they need to learn how to be bored (in regards to [...]

  10. [...] In gymnastics she’s gotten better at participating after we kept encouraging her–and a few times bribing her with the promise of a yogurt covered pretzel. But still, at “drinking fountain time,” 8 boys and girls run giddily across the room, laughing with one another. Fia walks. Now granted, she walks with a little sassy sway in her and I kinda dig that she doesn’t have to run with the pack, but I just wonder sometimes what is going on in her mind. I don’t want to project anxiety on her, and maybe she just goes to the beat of her own drum, but still…I am left puzzled. [...]