Pandering or Parenting: Either Way, It’s a Slippery Slope

If you’ve ever lied to a child and told them they’ve won, when that was not the case, you may be guilty of falsely bolstering their self esteem. Every parent knows this dilemma. It can mean so much to a child to hear the words: “You won!”. It means so much, in fact, that you are tempted to lie occasionally and tell them they won, even when they didn’t. Encouragement or outright lie? Giving your child enough victories is one way to keep him/her engaged in competitive sports and games, but is it at the cost of learning to be a gracious loser? One could argue that the way your child handles both of these outcomes can affect him/ her, not just in sports, but in life in general.

Too much discouragement can cause a child to prematurely quit a sport that they might one day excel at if they were just given adequate encouragement. So what’s a parent to do when those three words come up: “Did I win?” And face it, what kid’s eyes don’t light up when they’re declared the winner in this world where, at least in their eyes, everyone seems bigger and more skilled? And admit it, as an adult, there’s nothing like seeing the satisfaction and delight on a child’s face when they’ve mastered some skill, regardless of what it may be. Encouragement at the right time can bolster a child’s self-esteem, independence and feelings of autonomy, so you’d be remiss if you didn’t take opportunities to praise them, right?

Sometimes this dilemma is avoidable by incorporating handicaps, sometimes not. My husband found this out the hard way… I am almost certain he will never walk onto another golf course with a child and not play with handicaps. He wasn’t thinking it through, though, on that balmy, carefree summer day on the golf course. He was just glad to be spending time with a nephew he only sees a handful of times during the year and glad to have a rare, slow day at his Marketing/Graphic Design job, so that he could enjoy the outdoors. My nephew was about to be six at the time and has since turned six in the last month, so you can imagine how distraught he was when he realized he wasn’t doing so well against his uncle and a friend. So distraught, in fact, that he began to have a meltdown and began crying, refusing to get out of the golf cart. Of course, many grown men have lost it on the golf course, throwing golf clubs and swearing never to play again, so what’s the difference? Maybe it’s a genetically inborn trait in males that manifests itself even at this age. Seriously, though, any kid wants to win in sports and he is no different. And, like any other child, is not consoled by the fact that he is playing against adults and should cut himself some slack. He just wants to hear those all encompassing words: You won. Who can blame him?

My husband, being the quick thinker that he is, tells my nephew that he is calling the clubhouse to check the scores. When he gets off the phone from this staged call, he explains to my nephew that he is still in the running to win and that the winner gets a trophy. This dries his tears and a little manipulating of the game ensures this outcome. They will mail you the trophy, my husband explains as they are leaving the golf course and this seems to satisfy him also.

However, upon hearing this outlandish promise later that afternoon, I scold my husband, for fear my nephew will one day realize he had been lied to and given a fake trophy. Back and forth we argue about what should have been done. One thing was for certain, though, he would have to mail him a trophy. A few days after ordering a trophy online to be mailed to our nephew, we received a call from his mother recounting his excitement upon receiving the trophy in the mail. What did he say? What any six year old would say upon winning a golf trophy: “I’m going to have to start playing more golf so I can win some more trophies!”

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