Somebody Give This Kid a Trophy

(This appeared in Huffington Post on 1/14/15)

While cleaning her room the other day, my 11-year-old daughter came out holding two trophies.

“Mom,” she said, “I need a small trophy case, or we need to go buy some at the trophy store. I only have two trophies and it’s lowering my self-esteem.”

I was too busy laughing to break the news that her trophies — awarded several years ago for soccer and gymnastics — are both for participation. Oops. If not for the scattered blue ribbons she earned at her elementary school’s Olympics and paper awards for good grades, the poor kid wouldn’t know an award if it fell off the shelf and hit her on the head.

As far as self-esteem goes, I never considered that trophies made much of a difference. My daughter is halfway through her first year of middle school, and so far, her self-esteem is solid. She’s confident academically. She made friends with a nice group of girls that don’t appear to be drug dealers. She’s also great friends with the mirror. A typical school morning consists of endless sessions where she is planted firmly in front of the mirror, flipping and brushing her hair and belting out Taylor Swift while I plead desperately for her to put on shoes before the carpool arrives.

If I were to call up the trophy store to bulk on trophies for my daughter, the first award would be for Most Enterprising Kid. I think it’s hilarious that she chose to pitch a plan that skips actually earning awards and just buying them. After all, this is the same kid who learned about the Tooth Fairy and instead of crying about it, decided she would rather take a lump sum payment for her remaining teeth and just call it a day.

Still, my daughter’s analysis of her meager trophy collection made me think. Should we encourage her more? Are the kids with more after-school activities better off? Even though I personally think trophies are cheesy, is there a correlation between awards and self-esteem?

Like a good parent, I turned to Facebook, eager to hear what other parents had to say. I waited for friends with kids with massive trophy collections to encourage me to step it up already. Instead, a friend with really great kids suggested that I make some homemade awards for my daughter, offering up “Best Dressed” as a starting point. Another friend with amazing daughters suggested “Most Socially-Politically Involved.”

The mere suggestion that I have a daughter whose funky fashion choices and political interests might garner awards — albeit homemade ones — made me smile. I began brainstorming ideas of homemade awards, forgetting for a moment that craft stores make my skin crawl. I’d love to see my daughter displaying the “Most Hilariously Sarcastic” award. I considered a “Best Dancer for a Kid Who Hasn’t Taken Very Much Dance” award. I’d love to help her handle her concerns about being one of the tallest kids in her grade with a “Tallest Kid in Sixth Grade Who Will See in a Few Years that Being Tall is Really Great” trophy.

Ideas flowing, I was considering dialing up a trophy store for pricing options when Julie, one of my daughter’s preschool teachers, posted a comment that brought me back to reality.

“Tell her self-esteem is built on the foundation of self-image, not golden plastic,” she wrote. “And I have seen the trophy store, it is kind of a depressing place.”

I love Julie. Her advice is priceless to me. When our daughter was three, she decided to cut her own hair at school, shoving the evidence in books and denying it with such conviction that even Julie had to admit it was pretty funny. Together, we worked to figure out how to turn the experience into a lesson. Those are the times where self-esteem is built. Trophies not required.

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