school

"My son was devastated he missed out on a school leadership role. This is what I told him."

At my son’s last school, the kids who got Class Rep, other leadership positions, or the prizes at the end of the year awards ceremony – they were from the families who donated the most money to the school.

So it was a surprise to me when this year, at a new school, the kids were asked to work for these things – especially the leadership stuff. I loved it, because as a parent, you want kids to know that things aren’t just handed to you. And that privilege can’t buy your way to reward.

When they announced that the elections for the 2019 leadership positions would be held soon, I really wanted my 11-year-old to be part of the process. Candidates had to do a full campaign, with posters, a personal slogan, and two speeches. I thought it was such a valuable thing to do, so I made my kid a deal.

“If you, at the very least run, you’ll learn so much,” I promised. “I don’t care if you win. In fact, winning is nice, but that’s not important. I will think you’re a success if you just run.”

And then, I pulled out the mother of all parenting bribes.

“If you don’t win, you’ll get a new Macbook for Christmas.”

I wasn’t worried that he’d ‘chuck’ the campaign just to get the laptop. I knew he wanted to do it to win. But I wanted to emphasise that the trying part of it was the real winning.

Unsurprisingly, we had a deal.

The next few weeks made me so proud of my kid. He blew me away with his heartfelt and eloquent speeches which he worked so hard on. He drafted them, then wrote them on to cards, and practised them repeatedly. We workshopped his campaign slogan – he came up with “Make Primary School Great Again”, his little mockery of Trump’s campaign slogan.

I was so impressed by his initiative and how seriously he took the process. I feel like he even grew up a little in this time – he certainly rose to the occasion.

And still, all the while, I made sure to point out what he was achieving, how amazingly he was doing, just on the journey. He could see that for himself, because he was loving all of it – the work, the feedback from his friends, the sense of accomplishment.

All of that, without even winning anything.

"I loved that at this school, the kids have to earn their leadership positions." Image: Getty.
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On the morning of the election, my son went to school with his head held high, knowing he'd done his absolute best.

At 3.15pm, he called me at work.

"Everything's OK, Mum," he began, and I could hear the tears in his voice.

"But I didn't get a position." And then he started to genuinely sob.

It was a horrible, gut-wrenching moment. I wanted to cry, too. But more than anything, I wanted to be able to hug him.

I'll admit, I was a little angry. We'd given it everything, and it still wasn't enough. I was heartbroken for him because he'd worked so hard. In my utterly biased opinion, he deserved a position - he'd earned it.

All of those thoughts jumbled around in my mind for literally seconds - because, ultimately, I knew this was just life. It wasn't his turn, this time.

It's a hard lesson for kids, but an important one: in life, more often than not, there can only be one winner. Learning that early on is character-building, and a crucial lesson in resilience. Not everything can, nor will be, about them, all the time.

Can you bribe your kids to do well at school with money? We ask a psychologist about whether or not it’s ok to bribe your kids to do well at school with cash, on our podcast for imperfect parents.

But of course, as we all know, that doesn't mean when the first time it happens it's easy. It's not. For many of us, we remember what that first time feels like all too well. The crushing disappointment. The sense of feeling that we weren't good enough.

Yes, we get over it - and we try again. As adults, we know now we will go on to have our share of wins, and there's plenty of hope for the future.

I had wanted my son to go through this process to grow - not to win. I had promised him that wasn't the whole point. And, of course, I'd even promised him a new laptop, in my determination to put my money where my mouth was.

When I collected my son from school, I allowed him time to debrief. He was disappointed, still - but much to his credit, the initial shock had worn off, and he was pragmatic. He could see why the four candidates had been voted in - they would be excellent leaders. He also recognised they were better known at the school than he was.

I told him I was the proudest mum ever; he'd been brave, taken a risk, and just completely put himself out there.

The next time he wanted to achieve something, he'd know he was able to put in the work, and see something through to the end. And, most importantly, be OK with whatever the outcome.

That's real success.

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