My first-born lives up to his birth order stereotype: responsible, independent, Type-A, achiever. Achievements have always come easily for him. Perhaps it’s because he loves a challenge and strives constantly to overcome whatever hurdle is on the horizon. He sets goals for himself and works to achieve them. But at some point in raising him and his three siblings, I celebrated these achievements less and less.
Perhaps it was because it began to feel boastful. When he earned Student of the Year in Pre-K, he had a cheering section of support. However, with each new earned honor, it became awkward to share what he had won. Even I, his proud mother, was beginning to fall victim to a mentality of “Here we go again…” with him and become numb to his work. I would share with very close family members, but I certainly didn’t feel comfortable sharing on social media, where his string of successes felt the most like bragging.
This struck me as odd. I had no problem whatsoever sharing the earnest efforts of him and his siblings when they were struggling or working toward something. I felt comfortable posting and discussing all of my children’s signs of work. But the minute that work shifted to reward, I became uncomfortable–even embarrassed–by his achievements. I wanted to share his award at piano just like I shared his brother’s hard work on homework but without that icky feeling that somehow felt like I was bragging. I didn’t want to brag: I wanted to praise what he earned in the same way I praise his effort in earning it.
I began to reflect on why it felt so much easier to praise the effort than the accomplishment. It’s easy to blame the era of “everyone gets a trophy” for wanting to shower kids with praise when they work toward a goal, but I had to remind myself that in many ways, I was falling victim to this mentality by robbing his achievements of the praise they deserved, too. I began to realize that it’s easy to celebrate effort; ironically, it’s more challenging when that effort results in an accomplishment.
It’s true that in order to foster diligence and dedication from students, we have to support the struggle, the work, the striving. This is why there are justifiably rewards for improvement and hard work. These absolutely deserve praise and congratulations! This is precisely where children develop grit. What I’m afraid may have gotten lost in the translation of that emphasis on the work is the fact that we should likewise support when that work we’ve been developing yields results.
My achiever was never just handed an award. Like the strivers, he worked his tail off to earn them. He was recently recognized for an achievement at his school’s awards ceremony that made us especially proud. But we weren’t proud of the recognition or the trophy that he received. Those things are fleeting and material. We were most proud of the fact that it represented his ability to set a goal for himself, establish a plan to accomplish it, and see it through with consistency until the end of the school year. At no point did he stop striving for his recognition.
There have been many, many times that he did not earn the award, the recognition, the win at the game. While I braced myself for how he may react to these setbacks and prepare my sportsmanship discussion, I found I often didn’t need it. These things simply developed a deeper drive in him to continue improving and to work harder.
And I don’t know that I can take credit for that as a parent. That sort of drive could just be innate. But what I can take credit for is how I respond when he does achieve something great. Just as I do with celebrating the struggle, I can and should celebrate the achievement because achievers deserve praise, too.