It’s a topic written about on numerous occasions. 

I’m talking about this current phenomenon of blinkered praise and reward and positive encouragement of children, no matter their level of skill or ability (or lack of). God forbid mentioning the ‘F’ word ‘failure’, these days. Kids don’t fail, they just win with a lower degree of winning - some win in a more winning way, while those who haven’t performed as well are still winners, but not to the magnitude of the actual winners…but they’re winners, WINNERS WE SAY…yeah, they are, really.

When it comes to managing the performance of our children, generally speaking, it’s kid gloves on and cotton wool cocooning precious feelings.

Last week I received an email from one of my daughter’s teachers. He was concerned that in an upcoming math test, she may not pass if she didn’t buckle down a little more and master her fraction formulas. Thankful of this email (prevention is better than cure), I chatted with her about it.

Well. You’d have thought I’d just given her the news that her dog had been run over by a car when I mentioned the phrase ‘you could fail’. 

The drama. The tears. ‘You think I’m a failure. How can you say that to me??!!’ Someone’s been watching too much Dance Moms (hate that show).

I reiterate, I said ‘you COULD fail the test if you don’t knuckle down’. Momentarily, with tears still raining, I thought to myself, perhaps I’d said the wrong thing. Bad cop. Bad father. Awful person. Heartless. Set her up for a life of cocaine use in a crack house.

But no, bugger it, why can’t I use the ‘F’ word with her? Why can’t I give her a big dose of reality? Why shouldn’t I enlighten her to the fact that if you don’t work for something, you lose it? In other words, there are consequences. 

Sorry, darling, those tears, they didn’t work.

Thankfully, my little talk did. A treat. 

Digressing for a moment, if you look at her collection of trophies, you’d think she was destined to becomes Australia’s next top soccer player, prima ballerina, soccer superstar and tennis super-brat. I'm sure it's a similar scene in most kids' bedrooms. 

Thing is (and I say this not as a disappointed over-zealous sideline parent, because as long as she’s enjoying sport I’m happy), she’s never actually ‘won’ anything. Sure, she’s been victorious and improved and played like a trooper, but her netball team has never taken out the competition. Her soccer team never won a grand final. Yet, her trophy collection is impressive.

I still remember receiving my first trophy for tennis. For years I’d collected enough pennants to create a patchwork blanket. Wasn’t good enough for the trophy. So I kept at it, tried harder and BOOM: trophy. Achievement. Chest out. 10 feet tall. Job done. Satisfaction. 

I don’t see it as frequently, anymore. I just don’t.

Trophies are no longer gleaming beacons of greatness, they’re simply symbols of participation (look at the overloaded tables at end-of-year presentations and you’ll see what I mean).

One gets the feeling that for many parents, if their child doesn’t walk away with a trophy, it’s as though the sporting or dancing association has insulted them and should refund the registration fee.

We are rewarding activity, not ability.

Our generation is setting up the new generation for big falls in later life. For in the big bad world, if you go into a job with all guns blazing and ridiculously super-inflated confidence, but with no actual skills to back up the hype, you’ll crash. Hard. Then who will be there to pick you up? How will a child, graduating to their young adult years, deal with a bad review by their boss, or a roasting by a client, if all they’ve ever experienced is positive reinforcement because the world is full of fluffy bunnies and candy canes?

It scares me. Guess it’s why I’ve (we’ve) always been pretty tough with our daughter when it comes to bettering herself in this world.

Look, I don’t periodically trample on her ego with zero positivity and a big stick, but I do think balance is needed. Life can be good news and bad news. They need to be exposed to both.

So back to her maths, her test is in two days. And for the last couple of nights she has indeed knuckled down. We’ve done revision together. Figured out the formulas. Even completed fractions at a restaurant table (much to the amusement of the fellow diners who had also forgotten how to work out year 7 maths problems). 

Her confidence is high, not because of pats, but because of pushes.

Here’s the best part: she even thanked me.

And that’s the best award I ever received.