“Good job darling!” I yell, with my face arranged into the Encouraging and Affirming Mummy Pose. Both my thumbs (not just one) are raised and simultaneously punctuating my prose as I shout “Great work!” and “Good try sweetheart!” whilst smiling so hard my ears hurt. Or maybe it’s the chorus of other netball mothers, out-encouraging their daughters, that’s causing the pain.
The truth is that Prima (aged 7) is shaping up to be as athletically challenged as I am. I have to say, I am very proud of her values – every week she bravely gets out there on the court, when the ball comes towards her she stoically doesn’t flinch, her concentration is palpable. She’s no One Miss Wonder, my Prima – with her little arms waving wildly, she misses the ball. My childhood friends will remember that scene well (except that I was never brave and I still do flinch).
I love the effort Prima puts into missing the ball and the goofy smile she gives me when it sails right past her. It makes me want to run onto the court, scoop her up and say “You’re the best darling!”. I know she’s not, and when the ball comes towards her, I am flinching on the inside and praying for contact. When the inevitable outcome occurs, I don’t know what comes over me but I have this uncontrollable impulse to raise both my thumbs and smile encouragingly like an idiot.
At the end of the season we proudly attended the netball gala at which every child is presented with a trophy. Quite rightly, at this young age, the emphasis is on participation and teamwork, rather than individual skill (or lack thereof). In the sausage sizzle that followed, one of the netball mothers hesitantly and quietly asked the following question: at what stage do we stop giving every child a trophy and start teaching them that some people are more skilled than others; that if you want life’s trophies, you might have to work harder.
I nearly choked on my organic, free range, happily raised and humanely executed snag (it’s that kind of neighbourhood). Was she seditiously suggesting that perhaps it might be ok for the children to learn that sometimes they weren’t winners (if indeed they were not) and develop the tools required to deal with that – including the emotional resilience to maintain their self-esteem, the determination to keep improving and the enthusiasm to keep playing?
I thought back to my own upbringing. My parents never told me I was doing a good job if I wasn’t. They told me I could do better if they thought I could. They told me I was kind, clever and funny and that this would make up for my abject lack of hand-to-eye co-ordination. Maybe they too were exaggerating in an attempt at encouragement and affirmation.
To me, Prima’s every act is the personification of perfection, even though I know she sucks at netball. Perhaps I need to do more than simply praise, smile hard and arrange my thumbs in a ridiculous pose, so she is better prepared emotionally for when she does not get chosen to play for Australia (or the school…or her class). Over the next few months, before netball trials start, I will ponder life’s trophies and the lessons we learn from getting them and not getting them. And, I will be sending poor little Prima to netball bootcamp.
Do you praise your children regardless of their abilities and achievements? Are we failing to teach them to cope with failure as a result?