“Winna! Winna! Winna! Everyone’s a WINNA!” is commonly uttered by the carneys as you scuttle by, trying not to make eye contact, lest they use their powers of persuasion (and by ‘persuasion’ I mean ‘unbridled public shame’) to lure you in to “win” a teddy bear for your date. We all know this teddy bear will forever remain on the shelf. Those carneys are LYING to you about everyone being a winner…you get a stick or something and they call it a prize.

This is the same feeling when kids play a game and are told that everyone wins. The true winners of the game get a crappy little trophy that is exactly the same as the losers’ trophy (which they got for participating). This is a lose/lose situation: the winners don’t feel as though their hard work has paid off, so they don’t feel like working so hard next time; and the losers feel no need to work any harder because they get the same thing anyway. (Just a side, note, this is also a very simplified reason for why Socialism and Communism don’t EVER work, even when the Pilgrims tried it as a system of government long before Karl Marx had his “epiphany”.)

Now, don’t get all huffy because I called one team the winners and the other losers. I am not saying that little Timmy is a loser and this is not a character judgment. I am saying he was on the team that lost the game. What am I supposed to call the team that loses? The winning-challenged team? NO! I’m not gonna do it!

The “trophies all around” kids are those that grow up unable to deal with defeat, and equally unable to deal with success.

If the winners of the team are taught BY THEIR PARENTS as well as the coaches to be gracious about winning and to humbly accept praise for their hard work, they won’t be the kids that go, “Neener-neener-neener! You can’t do it!” to the poor kid on the playground that just got beaned by the tether ball. They will most likely instead say to the aforementioned poorly coordinated kid, “Wow! Are you okay? Hey, if you stand back and keep your eye on the ball, that helps. Want to try again?”

If the losers are given a trophy anyway, they end up being the kids who look shocked and then throw a hissy fit on national television when they dance like elephants with osteoporosis and then don’t get a ticket to Las Vegas on So You Think You Can Dance.

You have to tell kids the truth! They are smarter than you think. They know when they are getting snowed. Exhibit A: Little Holli draws a horse and it looks like a cow. It even has hay sticking out of its mouth to complete the, albeit unintentional, effect. The teacher says, “What a nice cow!” Holli says, “It’s supposed to be a horse.” Teacher says, “Oh, I see it now, I was looking at it from the wrong angle. What a great horse!” Holli’s baloney alarm goes off and she’s onto that teacher. Holli figures a cow is good enough and spends even more of her time playing jump rope.

Here is what actually happened to little Holli, in real life. Holli draws a horse for her book report cover. The teacher says, “If your book report is on a book that’s about a horse, why did you draw a cow?” Holli says, “It’s supposed to be a horse.” Teacher says, “Next time, draw something you can do well, because this looks like a really skinny cow.” Holli files this information away for the future. Holli still remembers this teacher and now, as an adult, appreciates his honesty. Did I want to cry when he told me that? Sure. But, I sucked it up and drew things I could do well for the rest of my book reports. When my work was actually good, he told me so. I knew he wasn’t lying to me.

The problem is, most of the time, kids get hooked on being snowed, on being told they are always great – no matter what the actual outcome of their efforts. They get addicted to it and it becomes an entitlement that they do not part with easily (hence, the huge hissy fits). It’s not pretty.

It can be so much better than that! For instance, my oldest kiddo (who’s 10) loves to be sarcastic and tell good jokes (situational, stories, you name it). I’m not sure where she gets it…weird. Anyway, when she first started her quest to be funny, she really sucked at it, just like most of us do when we do something for the first time. But, instead of telling her that she was funny all the time (which would have led to more and more bad jokes, ad nauseum), I leveled with her, using kind words like, “that’s drivel.” Wait, that’s not what I’d say at all. I’d say, “Honey, I know you meant that to be funny, but it just really wasn’t…” – this is the important part so quick picking your toenails and pay attention – “and here’s why. If you had said (fill in the blank), it would have been much better.” So, I let her down easy, told her what went wrong, and gave her something to build on. So, now, after many long, long months of practice and LOSING over and over again at being funny, she’s getting much better. This is demonstrated easily by this recent conversation amongst my friend, me, and my darling kiddo:

Friend: I heard that the curriculum for American history from now on is going to be the Civil War to present. They aren’t even going to touch on the founding of the country.

Me: That’s awful! They need to have two years of American history in school because we started just before the founding and never made it past the Civil War.

Kid (with twinkle in eye): Well, Mom, that’s because the Civil War was current events when you were in school.

Ha! Also, she’s quick to duck. Just kidding, we all about bust a gut laughing. All that work is paying off.

You can do the same with baseball!

“Ok, Timmy,” you could say –unless your kid’s name isn’t Timmy, “you guys lost today. Yeah, that stinks and I wish you guys could have won. I’ll bet the reason your team lost is because the outfield spent most of the time kicking that big ant pile in right field. If you guys work on paying more attention to the game, I’ll bet you’ll win more games. Let’s go practice together!” Shoot, by next week little Timmy will be the next Jose Conseco! Maybe he should try out for American Idol while he’s at it…