‘Good job, sweetheart! That’s a beautiful picture and I know you worked very hard on it.’ I said, praising my five-year-old daughter.
Her eight-year-old big sister gasped and shot me a wounded look, as though my compliment was intended as a direct insult to her.
‘You know I could draw that even better, right?’ She couldn’t help herself.
So when the entire La La Land entourage gathered on stage last night to accept their Academy Award for Best Picture and were halfway through their acceptance speeches before they realized there had been a mistake—Moonlight was the rightful winner—the audience breathed a collective sigh of relief at how graciously the mix up was accepted…from both the winners and the losers.
These were all professional adults, dressed to the nines, at a televised award ceremony, so clearly we should expect basic civil behaviour.
But it’s not a given, even for adults. For kids, it can be nearly impossible; that kind of poise is an advanced skill that takes years to develop. And, like any skill, some kids pick up on it faster than others. It just means they need more practice.
A lesson I have to learn myself (over and over again), as a mom of three, is that each of my kids is different and that raising them to be generous and courteous humans is a process. Why is it so hard to remember that?
My son has only ever beamed with pride at his sisters’ accomplishments. He takes losing hockey and baseball games in stride and truly enjoys lining up to congratulate the other team on a game well-played. But constructive criticism from parents or coaches is another cup of tea altogether. ‘Try holding your stick closer to the ice.’ ‘But I DO!’ And you can see his tears welling up immediately.
My daughter will happily listen to coaches and teachers, but then comes home and shuts down out of frustration. The most talented player on her baseball team is also prone to temper tantrums that cause her to sit out innings at time. One year, a boy hit into a double play during the t-ball playoffs, cementing his team’s loss, and you could hear him sobbing clear across the field.
So we talk about it. We talk about how trying your hardest, having fun, and being a good sport is what matters most. Somebody has to lose, after all. (So it’s also important to be a gracious winner.) We talk about how it’s okay to feel disappointed, but you still need to be polite; about how somebody else’s praise isn’t a knock against you; and how trophies and awards aren’t the real reason we participate in things in the first place.
But I know it’s just going to keep getting harder. I’m bracing myself for the first sting of a rejection after an audition or student council election. Perhaps they won’t get into the school of their choice, land a coveted job, or even get fired.
My hope is that with every loss along the way, they’ll get better at dealing with the disappointment. They don’t need to be perfect now. This, like parenting as a whole, is a process.
It’s a good thing I recorded the Oscars for them, too, because there’s definitely a lesson worth teaching right there.