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If Everyone’s a Winner, We’re all Losers

Kindy graduation: a participation award, setting our kids up for failure


Kindy graduations really get me riled up. A graduation gown and a mortar board, not to mention a furled certificate and professional photos, for a four year old who has not achieved a thing, is ridiculous. It’s beyond ridiculous actually. It is this sentiment that is setting our kids up for failure. The child who overcame separation anxiety, the child who learnt to speak without a lisp, the child who has been attending every day for four years, and the child who signed up to kindy for the summer period before starting school, are all receiving the same recognition. They are all receiving over-the-top accolades just for showing up! This is not how the real world operates. In the real world a graduation is the awarding of a certification that recognises a specific skill set and knowledge base. The awarding of this certificate resembles a culmination of hard work, dedication and determination, and is likely to cause people to reflect and realise what they have accomplished. Then, they will relish in their pride.

All I want for my children is for them to grow into happy, successful adults who contribute positively to society. For that dream to become reality I need to ensure my children know how to fail. They need to have been given the opportunity to try and to fail, only to try and fail again and again and again, before eventually tasting sweet success. They need to know what it’s like to work as hard as you possibly can, and still not be the best. They need to know that in most aspects of life, there will be someone better than they are, and someone they are better than. They need to learn from those who are better, and realise others are learning from them.

I have completed three university degrees. For the first two I chose not to attend the graduation ceremony. I didn’t want to spend the couple of hundred dollars on the gown and mortar board, I didn’t want to arrive three hours early for a ceremony that would bore me for another three, and I didn’t want to expect my loved ones to sit through that either. Rather, I opted for my certificates and transcripts to be posted to me, which I filed safely in a draw somewhere. I recently completed my third qualification and I have decided to attend the ceremony. It’s important I go. I worked hard for this. All of my study has been difficult. My Bachelor I completed as a young single mother of one. My first Masters I completed early in my career amidst wedding planning. This recent one, this one I did as a mother of four. The first year working full time in a senior leadership role, the second as a full time stay-at-home parent. It was an achievement that I worked hard for. I struggled, I overcame adversity, I persevered, and I demonstrated resilience. I kept at it and succeeded when others would have failed. I achieved this and I deserve recognition. I earnt my gown and mortar board. I earnt my name on that graduate roll. I earnt my certificate. My children deserve to see that my sacrifice, effort and achievement are being recognised and rewarded. My children deserve to see that hard work pays off. That’s why I am going.

Kindy graduation is a dramatic participation ribbon. Too often these participation awards are handed out in the absence of recognition of winners. If everyone’s a winner, then aren’t we all losers? If we run a cross country race and everyone gets a ribbon, what was the point in anyone working hard?No one learns anything of value. They learn to expect something for nothing. This expectation of getting something for nothing is one of the biggest complaints of Baby Boomers and Gen X of the subsequent generations, and this problem will grow if these practices continue. These participation awards are ensuring our children are moulded into narcissists who expect praise for simply being there, children who cannot demonstrate resilience, children who do not know how to fail or how to succeed. Sadly, children who won’t experience true pride in themselves. Failure is a necessity. It teaches us about our strength. It teaches us optimism. It gives us hope. Failure does this because when we fail, we’re okay. We get back up. We try again.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

When my child loses at something. Whether they come second, third, or dead last, the sentiment of my response is that they didn’t deserve to win. I deliver this message with appropriate compassion of course, and I will still be proud of them. But the message is simple. The person who won deserved to win. I will not tell them they had an off day, they would have won with a different judge, that they deserved to win. I will not provide an excuse. Saying these things simply cheapens the win for the child who achieved it and deserved it. When my children win I tell them they deserved it. I commend them on their hard work. I praise the fact that they overcame all obstacles. I am proud of them and they relish in the delicious emotion of pride, made all the more sweet by knowing the taste of failure.

The frequent clichés of There are no losers when you play hard or Everyone’s a winner just for showing up are validating the narcissism that permeates today’s society. Everyone is not a winner. The winner is the person who runs the fastest, jumps the highest, sings the best, or achieves the highest grade. Our children need to learn that you must do more than simply show up. Showing up and a positive attitude won’t guarantee success. Sometimes, hard work won’t even cut it. But when it does, it will be phenomenal, and it will be worth every effort and every precious failure that came before.

About the Author

Gabrielle left her job as an Assistant Principal in a secondary school to follow her dream of making a difference to future generations by teaching emotional intelligence. To supplement this, she worked as a secondary relief teacher, she tutor school students as well as adults from non-English speaking backgrounds, and she is a freelance writer who intermittently ghost writes blogs for websites other than her own. As a hobby she write books. She have written a children’s book that won 3rd prize in the CYA Conference in 2016 that is currently being illustrated, and she is in the midst of working on a Young Adult novel. She is a parent, but it is not what defines her. She blogs at about her life as a mother of four boys, and the topics she write about are varied.

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