Nowadays, it seems common that preschools give out trophies / medals for participating in sports or other school events.
Dr. Maria Montessori has long observed that prizes aren’t necessary if the child is satisfied with his own learning.
“The dangling cross could satisfy the child who was being punished, but not the active child, content and happy with his work.”
“What a revelation! This little fellow already knew that he stood among the best and strongest of his class, although no one had ever revealed this fact to him, and he did not wish to be offended by this prize. Not knowing how to defend his dignity, he invoked the superior quality of his masculinity!”
(Source: The Montessori Method, Maria Montessori, pages 102 to 103)
In recent years, researchers have also made comments such as this:
“Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.” (Source: Losing Is Good for You, Ashley Merryman, New York Times)
Hubby and I enjoy learning and did well in school from young. We’re self-driven to succeed in our work and find it unnecessary to display any of our past certificates / awards / trophies in the house.
Now that our eldest kid is coming home with trophies and medals, what do I do with them?
I hide them in a wardrobe. Where I don’t see them; Vee and the younger siblings don’t see them; guests don’t see them.
Two of Vee’s trophies are first prize awards for a national-scale piano competition. They go into hiding too.
From the start, we’ve placed little emphasis on winning and have wanted our children to develop a growth mindset.
Vee is on the performance rather than exam route for piano. There’re few performance opportunities at his young age. So going for competitions is one way to help him gain stage experiences.
We always tell him he’s going to perform and to enjoy other children’s performances too. Recently, he realises that these are also competitions in which their performances are ranked. We assure him that any prize is a bonus. Just perform at his best for the audience.
To mean what we preach, after he brings home the trophies, we store them deeply inside a wardrobe, and he doesn’t feel any loss at all. Indeed, why would a child be attached to a trophy unless adults emphasise its importance?
If I see these trophies every day, I may convince myself that he’s really good and start over-praising him or be complacent in guiding him. Or I may end up nudging him to win the next big title. Nope, I’m not risking to go towards this direction.
If Vee sees his trophies every day, he may rest on his laurels, and be too complacent to keep improving his skills. Or he may focus on winning the next big title, which isn’t the true spirit of learning piano (or any other subject). Nope, I’m not risking to have him go towards this direction.
If the younger siblings see his trophies every day, they may feel pressured to reach his arbitrary “standards”, and start doubting their abilities if they don’t win any in future. Nope, I’m not risking to have them think this way. They’d put in their best efforts in whatever they do and not compare their worth to anybody else.
If relatives or guests see his trophies when they visit, they may over-praise Vee and potentially let him think too highly of himself. Or they may set expectations that are too high and indirectly put pressure on him during his future performances. He’s still a young child who needs to blossom in his own time.
As of now, my observations of his behaviour confirm that this is the right move, so I’d continue hiding the trophies. Instead, I’d inspire my children to derive true satisfaction from whatever they’re learning.