I’ve never been a fan of the idea that “everyone gets a trophy.” In the areas of sports, I find that there are many valuable lessons to learn from losing and winning: determination, perseverance, work ethic, sportsmanship. Competition can be healthy and can reveal a lot to us about ourselves and others.
But when it comes to raising siblings with strong relationships, my husband and I stray a bit from these ideals. In our house, when one child wins, they all do.
This wasn’t necessarily how we began our parenting decisions. If I’m going to be honest, my husband and I probably just took advantage of an opportunity for us to get a sweet treat. That, and the fact that it’s often easier to keep everyone together, meant that if one child had a small success — going a week without any negative marks at school, getting a positive note home from a teacher, or even just doing chores without being asked — we all celebrated. Nothing crazy: usually we would make our way to an ice cream shop or snoball stand. However, once we were there, it wasn’t just the individual receiving the recognition who got the treat: all of us did. What I couldn’t have foreseen were the effects this admittedly-selfish decision had on the relationships among our children.
First, our kids began to understand that success is not a zero-sum game. One person’s success doesn’t rob another of success opportunities. In fact, usually if one of them got a reward, it would cause a domino effect of successes, even if they were only motivated by ice cream at first (who isn’t?!). They learned early that success breeds success.
Next, they started rooting for each other. I know it’s still motivated by receiving a treat, but that’s easy to forget when they’re yelling excitedly, “Way to go! I’m so happy for you! Congratulations!” And they do. Because celebrating someone else doesn’t remove any celebration from you. Celebrations aren’t mutually exclusive.
Most importantly, awarding all of them when one of them had some small success meant they had no reason to compete against each other. This has been the best byproduct of choosing to reward everyone. They don’t see each other as rivals or grow jealous of one of them getting a reward that the others don’t. If one of them has reason to be happy, they all do.
Of course there are exceptions. All of our children have goals that they work toward. This may be finishing a challenging chapter book, going a full month with no negative marks at school, or getting good grades on report cards. In these cases, when that child meets a goal, only he gets a reward, usually picking out a toy from the store.
When our boys met their goal of straight A’s for the semester and got to choose a toy, our four-year-old daughter asked if she could pick one, too. This was a perfect opportunity to remind her that they had their goal, they met it, they were rewarded, and that she has one, too, and when she meets hers, she’ll be rewarded with the same opportunity. But this conversation didn’t result in a jealous fit. She understood that if we were holding up our end of the bargain for her brothers, we could be trusted to do the same for her when she meets her big goal.