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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Parenting for a Trophy Now or Later?

One of the most important questions adults can ask themselves as they work with students is: Am I working for a reward now or later?

In his book, Poke the Box, Seth Godin writes about a typical contest that takes place in towns across America every October. Stores in town hold a contest for kids to paint a Halloween picture on their window. The winner gets a prize and bragging rights for a year. Godin points out that parents have three options when it comes to their involvement in the contest:

1.     Oversee the whole thing, helping your kid do it or doing it for them.

2.     Stand back and do nothing, letting your kid do whatever he wishes.

3.     Coach them to do their best and win or lose—learn from it all.

A parent’s choice says a lot about their philosophy of parenting. Far too many furnish lots of direction, almost dictation, as to how the painting should turn out. They choose option one. Why? They want their kid to win. And, with parents involved at such an intense level, those kid’s chances of winning go up. Or, a parent may choose option two and feel the kid should play freely with no input at all. Sadly, the kid doesn’t learn nearly as much as they would if the parent chose option three.

With option three, a caring adult interacts without governing the outcome. They help kids learn from the experience so, as they mature, they continue to learn when the parent is no longer next to them.  This is the adult who parents for a trophy, not now, but later. Their children become adults who not only know what to think but how to think.  But—this requires adults who live for rewards down the road when they actually count. They teach the kids to fish rather than give them a fish.

Are you parenting to help them win NOW or LATER when it matters?



  1. Nick Westbrook on March 28, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Great post Tim. On target & thinking of the bigger picture, as always!

  2. John Gallagher on March 28, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Tim, I am hopefully working Option 3. Most recently, this was with my son and his buddy working on a Rube Goldberg project. My engineering background wanted to jump in…But, I held back. I don’t they learned as much then, but to your point, I do think they will remember things like “set a goal for what you want to get completed tonight and then you can have the reward (video games, for example)”. They did not win first prize. They DID the project on their own, though and came in 5th out of about 50 projects! Came in 1st with me!!

  3. msjrd on March 28, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Great post! I can’t stand the “trophy for everyone” mentality. I learned a lesson early, when my son was in the first grade. He was “bored” and the teacher thought he needed to be challenged. She gave him an enormous project & 2 weeks to do it. He had to choose a subject (the Titanic), read 3 books, write a three page report, draw a diagram of all the parts of the ship, and do a science project (which objects float/sink in a tank of water)! He was only in the first grade! My reaction was, “No way”… but that kid was enthralled with that project. He couldn’t wait to get home every day to work on it. It showed me just how much my children can really do. From then on, at every opportunity, I spoke positives into my 2 boys, such as “you’re a leader” and “you CAN do it, show me” . Now I have 2 teenage boys and they are both leaders and both soaring on eagles’ wings!

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Parenting for a Trophy Now or Later?