Experts say 'failure' critical to a child's development - FOX Carolina 21

Experts say 'failure' critical to a child's development

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(WFSB photo) (WFSB photo)
Before becoming an NBA superstar, Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity team. (AP photo) Before becoming an NBA superstar, Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity team. (AP photo)
Oprah was fired from her first anchor job before becoming a multi-media star. (WFSB photo) Oprah was fired from her first anchor job before becoming a multi-media star. (WFSB photo)

Rewarding every child that participates in competitions has become more and more common, but some experts say that may be doing more harm than good.

Rejection and disappointment were a part of life, but it's something more and more parents don't want their children to experience.

That's why many schools and youth sports teams embraced the "Every child gets a ribbon" policy. They said everybody wins. No one gets hurt.

"Confidence is something you can't give a kid," said parenting expert Malcolm Gauld. "They earn it and the great thing about once they earn it, you can never take it away from them. But you're never going to give it to them with a ribbon."

Gauld is the president of the Hyde School, a private high school with locations in Woodstock and in Maine. After 35 years of teaching, he had some strong opinions.

For one, he said parents need to think differently about "failure."

"We have a dim view of failure I think in America when it comes to tests or test scores or anything," Gauld said. "Failure is a good thing. You pick yourself up and move on. It doesn't mean that we want them to fail or set them up to fail, but that it's just a part of life and learning how to make a comeback from failure is a critical skill. If everyone gets a trophy or a ribbon every time they do something, they may not learn that skill."

Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan was one case-in-point. Jordan did not make the cut on his varsity school team. However, he became one of the greatest basketball players in NBA history.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first anchor job only to become a multi-media mega star.

Locally, there was Hanna Hutchins of Ledyard, who was on her way to Utah State on a full basketball scholarship. Back in eighth grade, her coach gave her some bad news.

"He said I wasn't aggressive enough," Hutchins said. "So I didn't make the team. It's kind of been in the back of my mind my whole high school career and hopefully it turned out for the best.

She said that was her motivation.

"He's come to some of the games and told me, ‘You've improved so much!'" Hutchins said. "And I'm like, ‘Thanks!'"

Not every child can "hit it out of the park." That's the point for Richard Schaefer, who has made a living running a trophy shop in Enfield.

He agreed some awards could be excessive, but said a sense of achievement was different for every child.

"Some kids want to be a star quarterback," Schaefer said. "But some kids who are coming from backgrounds that are just getting the feel to participate, that's a major accomplishment. And those kids ought to be recognized for something, for just getting up and getting there for the most part."

Most parents Eyewitness News spoke with agreed, but they drew the line at a certain age.

"I think that when kids are young, preschool-kindergarten, it's OK to distribute awards and certificates or trophies to everybody," said Stephanie Thogmartin of Newington. "But if you continue that through their development, then when they're adults and they're in the work force, that it might be a harsh reality when someone gets promoted and they don't because they have this view that everybody's equal and that everybody wins. But that's not the case when you become an adult."

That's the argument that Gauld has been trying to make. He said yes children should be rewarded, but for working hard. He also said parents should do their part by letting their children struggle, just a little bit.

"If I had a message for today's parents it would be maybe step back rather than have your first move step in. Have your first move be to step back," Gauld said. "And maybe even try to have your first answer be ‘no.' Try ‘no' on for size and see where that takes you."

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