Tweens and trophies

As a young tween, my daughter participated in a Destination Imagination tournament — an academic, kid-focused, think-outside-the-box program in which teams create and participate in challenges. 

Its goals are admirable: Encouraging kids to work together as a team, trust one another’s different gifts and ideas, and improve their critical-thinking skills. 

As their team leader, I thought it would be good for them to participate in the end-of-the-day award ceremonies. 

I heard there would be dancing and celebrating. The award itself was the last thing on my mind. Our goal and reward was to learn how to work together. 

We-Weren’t-the-Winner woes

As a newbie, I didn’t get the memo that only the teams that had been doing this for years — and knew they’d probably be getting an award — typically come to the medal ceremony. The other 50 percent of the teams enjoy the challenges and call it a day. 

I wish I’d known that!

After all of the introductory celebrating and dancing, medals were handed out to the teams. All the teams present were recognized and medaled for something — except ours. The hard part was, our team was in the last category, so our kids really thought they’d not only earned a medal, but that they’d won first place. 

The look on their faces when the partying and loud music was taking place with no mention of them was devastating. 

My daughter sobbed horribly while the winners danced around her. “They didn’t even say our name,” she cried. 

My daughter was reeling over the DI loss the next day, still teary and upset. 

Many golden statues

Both my kids participated in recreational sports teams when they were younger. At the end of the season, no matter how good or bad they played as a team, or individually, they were given a golden statue. 

My husband and I decided to tell our daughter that the DI medals were for winning, not just for participating. We explained to her that her other trophies on her shelf were for playing the season — not for winning. 

She was so surprised; she thought those trophies meant something else. 

While I hated to see her face this harsh reality, I’m glad we had the opportunity to talk about how we don’t get medaled for every good thing we do in life. 

We live in age where we want to be fair — to encourage our kids. When my kids were younger, I was happy for them to receive a trophy. I guess I could’ve done a better job emphasizing it was for finishing something, completing a season, working hard at practices and supporting their teams. 

And then they grow up

My daughter recently played in a soccer tournament where her team won first place. 

“I felt so proud because we earned it,” she said of her medal.

I reminded her of that hard day at the DI competition and asked her what she thought about her team not receiving a medal then. 

She told me, “If someone keeps telling us we are No. 1, when we aren’t, it’s going to be hard when we aren’t No. 1 when we are older.”

So I’m glad I had to have that hard talk with her years ago.

It made her recent win all the richer. It also helped me see that, despite my efforts to parent perfectly and teach the right lessons, I won’t always get it right. 

The good news is, she’s growing up through my parenting, imperfections and all. 


Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 11 and 14. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.