"Please, Mom. I Really, Really Want to Win a Ribbon."
Photo Credit: Amanda Freeman
This morning, my six-year-old, Maia, competed in her second horse show. The first time she won two ribbons, setting the bar high. My stomach was in knots all morning as Maia whizzed around the house, buzzing excitedly about Lightning, the crazily slow horse she rides, and her plans to "kick butt." More than once she asked how many ribbons I thought she would win.
I tried to explain that whether or not she won a ribbon, we'd have fun. But Maia cares about the ribbons. In fact, she was happy when her coach decided not to move her up to next class, knowing she'd be more likely to score a blue. Since she's struggled with anxiety in the past, I want to use every opportunity to grow her confidence. I cannot get on the horse and win that ribbon for her, and actually since I've only been riding once or twice, that wouldn't work.
I want my kids to be realistic, while confident and hopeful. "Finding the Just-Right Level of Self Esteem for a Child," a Wall Street Journal article, advises parents to find a middle path. Over-praising can actually backfire when kids come up against real world situations where they are being judged. But all children should feel positive about themselves and their abilities. And that positivity can actually affect their performance.
Studies show American kids tend toward overconfidence. In the last fifty years numbers of American kids who classified themselves as "above average" in terms of academic abilities and self-confidence have sky-rocketed. This increase did not, however, mirror an actual increase in levels of academic achievement. Experts point to building self-esteem as a focus of parenting in recent decades. We pump up our kids. They are the greatest, smartest, cutest, most athletic ever, and we make sure they win trophies and ribbons and balloon bouquets (even for participation) to prove it.
I never thought I'd be one of those moms, sweating on the sidelines, praying for a ribbon. But there I stood today, actually squeezing my eyes shut when the announcer called out, "And the blue ribbon goes to rider number 302, Maia Freeman." Yes! Maia won the blue in the Equitation or technique category and placed third in the Equine Pleasure category -- still not sure what that means. For the next show, she'll probably move up to the next division, and Maia understands that will mean tougher competition and maybe not winning a ribbon, but for now she's basking in the glow of the blue.
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