It’s time to stop giving kids a prize for just turning up. We all need a reminder that it is OK to lose.

At sports days and kid’s birthday parties it seems like everybody wins a prize for just turning up. It might be making sure each child has a turn at winning during pass the parcel or actively handing out participation ribbons at the end of the 100-metre sprint. Regardless of what it is, is it time to stop and remind ourselves that it is OK for kids to lose?

Benchmark Psychology clinical psychologist Dr Grace Lynam says it isn’t beneficial to rewards kids for just showing up.

“To be the best they can be, our children need to learn to overcome challenges, face difficulties with effort and grow,” Grace says. “Participating is not an adequate skill for successful adult life, and winning doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness or success either.

“What does lead to happiness or success in adulthood is flexibility, effort, resilience and growth. These are what we should be rewarding.”

Grace believes that one of the keys to successfully rewarding kids is ‘differential rewarding’ – that is the concept that you get a little for a little and a lot for a lot. It might seem like common sense but, as Grace explains, the bigger the reward the harder we are more likely to work for it. A participation ribbon can impede the differentiation between rewards because everybody gets the same prize at the end of the race, which begs the question, what’s the point of even trying?

The upside to losing is that similarly to failure, it is something we are all going to experience throughout our lives. We cannot always win or be the best at everything and it is healthy for kids to understand this. There are countless times where things haven’t gone as planned for us all and that’s okay because we have learned from them.

When speaking with our kids about losing, Grace says like all conversations, honesty is the key.

“It is healthy for children to develop an honest view of the world and themselves,” Grace says. “Start by helping children to identify that while they did not win this time, there may be other times in their life, or in other activities, where they have felt good about themselves or felt they have done well in something.”

Parents should have an open and honest conversation with their kids about resilience and strength. There is so much to learn from losing – whether it’s reflecting on how we can improve for next time or identifying our own strengths and weaknesses. It is often when we fail or lose that we can learn our greatest lessons.



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