When I was a little boy there was a special sports day at school. It was special because we were in “Special Education”. At the time, there was nothing special about being put into a class full of kids with family issues labeled “slow”.
After the event, the person that came in first, second and third received their well earned medals (plastic).
I remember the feeling. It hurt but I understood why and it was okay. Then the teacher looked at me and gave me a medal. At the same time, she looked at me with pity and said “nice try”. This hurt ten times more than coming in last.
Looking back, I feel the teacher could not hold space for me to just feel what I was feeling about coming in last. Maybe she also felt pressure to do the politically correct thing. I did however like this teacher a lot. However her response was more about her than me.
We have no idea what a child feels or needs when they lose. Maybe they didn’t even want to play. Maybe they felt sick that day and couldn’t give 100%. Who knows?
What I do know is, giving a child a medal just for showing up is a bad idea.
Here is the truth. I had no interest in playing their game. I was more worried about going home to my very mentally sick mother and petrified by past and future images of abuse. I feared home more than I feared school.
If I were the teacher that gave me a sympathy medal, I would have asked Craig if he could help me carry somethings back to the classroom. As we walked, I would whistle and ask Craig if he can whistle too. I would have let him process the event on his own and I would have never given him a medal just for showing up.
As parents and teachers, children need “space keepers” more than direct influencers. Going direct in my experience has never worked out as well as going indirect.
The most important space a parent or teacher can hold for a child is one of safety and non-judgment with a peaceful presence. Not only does this create an excellent model for the child but it lets them grow within this space safely.
I felt I was being cheated out of feeling and growing with that cheesy medal. I did trash it as soon as I had the chance.