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HEREDIA: Should everyone get a prize?

Dr. Kristin Heredia
Dr. Kristin Heredia

There is a looming debate not only in schools, but also in athletics and various other extracurricular activities and that is: should everyone get a prize?
Like most of you, when I was young I got in trouble if I did not follow directions at school or at home. I do not recall being rewarded at school for sitting in my seat or walking down the hallway quietly at school, or at home for putting my laundry away when my mother asked me. But with every generation comes change and new ways of thinking.

Some schools are implementing programs, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, which promotes rewards for desired behavior. Research has shown schools that implement programs, such as PBIS, show a decrease in behavior issues. Although this data is showing good results for schools at the time of its use the big debate is: Should children be rewarded for doing what should just be expected? Some athletic programs and other extra-curricular activity programs are now giving ribbons, trophies, or participation certificates to all children instead of giving individual awards.

Side A: Why are we giving rewards for following simple expectations? If everyone gets a trophy, why bother to try harder? Is this teaching them social and emotional skills they need for the future, such as how to deal with failure or how to intrinsically be proud and motivated without receiving tangible items? As adults, will they be able to handle failure, have humility, and not crumple when criticized? Are we teaching them how to deal with failure? Later in life will they expect raise increases they didn’t earn? Should everyone make the team? Should we encourage the fact you get to participate is an award itself? Furthermore, if we give everyone a trophy or ribbon does that lesson its value?

Side B: Giving everyone a trophy encourages participation, promotes further activity, and if the child forms a sense of unhealthy entitlement it is from other sources of their life. We should focus on the long-term rewards of being athletic or involved in extra-curricular activities. Focusing on competition, especially in the early years, is unhealthy and everyone should feel appreciated and this continued feeling of encouragement propels children to continue to succeed in their lives. Is it a plastic trophy or a ribbon that makes kids entitled? Shouldn’t it be the parents' responsibility to teach their children failure is OK? If it is a team effort, shouldn't the whole team be rewarded?

I am not sure we will ever truly know one right answer. I do know life is filled with competition. Not everyone gets the job. Not everyone gets the promotion. People cannot expect to get a raise for just showing up. I want my own children to learn the world does not offer the same opportunities to the lazy and unmotivated. I want them to know it is OK to fail. I want them to find some intrinsic satisfaction in the process of picking themselves back up and trying again and again until they succeed. I want them to learn perseverance and resilience. I want them to learn this young; not everyone wins.
DR. KRISTIN HEREDIA lives in Ottawa and is loving everything life has to offer. She can be reached by emailing

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