If You Give a Kid a Trophy…

It’s no secret that parents today like to overanalyze. We do it often—and more than any generation before us. We worry constantly—about the effects of too much screen time, the chemicals in our kids’ plastic dinnerware, the sugar in our kids’ cereal. Some of it is founded: One can hardly argue that children are no doubt safer wearing helmets when they ride their bikes or healthier when we monitor their intake of processed foods.

But some of our microanalyzing has gotten a wee bit out of control.

In the past two weeks alone, I’ve stumbled upon two articles (which you can read here and here), the gist of which, like many others out there, is that we are raising a generation of entitled, spoiled brats. How, you may ask? Because we award trophies to our three-year-olds after wrapping up t-ball season and grace our preschoolers with participation ribbons “just for showing up.” This, apparently, has devastating consequences to our children’s character and life choices.

But does it, really? Are we so naïve to think that a tiny metal object could wield such power over our kids that it affects who they grow to become?

I decided to explore this idea in three homemade (and very poorly illustrated) “books,” modeled after the best-selling children’s storybook series by Laura Numeroff. What really happens when you give a kid a trophy? Take a peek below to find out.

Book 1--Title

If you give a kid a trophy, he’ll ask to go out for ice cream.Book 1--001

If you take him out for ice cream, he’ll probably start expecting it on a regular basis. If he eats ice cream regularly, he’ll become obese and develop diabetes.Book 1--002

So, he’ll sit on his couch-chair and watch TV all day instead of playing outside.Book 1--003

Too much screen time means he will no doubt develop ADHD. He’ll be unable to sit still in school, and his grades will suffer.Book 1--004

If he doesn’t get good grades in elementary school, he won’t pass the STAAR test.Book 1--005

If he can’t pass the STAAR test, he won’t graduate from high school. Book 1--006

If he doesn’t graduate from high school, he won’t get into college. He’ll end up flipping burgers at a fast food joint.Book 1--007

One day at work, he’ll see a bunch of three-year-olds celebrating the end of their soccer season with tiny metal trophies. The trophies will instantly remind him of all of his life failures. Book 1--008

And chances are, if you wouldn’t have given him a trophy, he never would’ve decided to run off and join a cult.Book 1--009


Book 2--Title

If you give your daughter a participation ribbon, she’ll automatically assume she is a “winner.”Book 2--001

You’ll play Candy Land together, and she’ll accuse you of cheating every time. If you allow her to think she won when she didn’t, she’ll become a preschool-aged narcissist. Book 2--002

She’ll refuse to share her toys or take turns on the playground. Book 2--003

If she refuses to share or take turns, her teacher will label her a “problem child.” You’ll coddle her and tell her she’s not at fault (because that’s what parents who give their kids participation trophies do).Book 2--004

As she grows older, she’ll demand more things because she thinks she deserves them. And you’ll give in to her demands like the pushover parent that you are.Book 2--005aBook 2--005bBook 2--005c

One day she’ll download the Whisper app on her new iPhone. She’ll meet a 28-year-old man who lives in a trailer and has a felony record. They’ll talk and agree to meet.Book 2--006

Approximately 10 months later, she’ll join the cast of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.Book 2--007

When the baby is born, someone will send flowers with a “welcome to the world, baby!” ribbon. It will remind her of the participation ribbon she received when she was four years old. Book 2--008

And chances are, if you hadn’t given your daughter a participation ribbon when she was in preschool, she wouldn’t be a 16-year-old mom with a child named Earl Jr. whose daddy is in jail.Book 2--009


Or maybe, just maybe, this is a more accurate portrayal…

Book 3--Title0024

If you give your kid a trophy or participation ribbon, he/she will be really excited about it for the rest of the day.Book 3--001

He will come home and put the trophy on a shelf in his room, and she will pin the ribbon on her bulletin board.Book 3--002

And never think about it again.Book 3--003

And chances are, a six-inch trophy or pretty participation ribbon will have absolutely nothing to do with how your kids turn out.Book 3--004

Taylor is a San Antonio native and stay-at-home mom to two daughters: Harper and Hayes. She and her Okie husband, Jeff, have been married 12 years despite their Texas/OU rivalry. Taylor is a former Clark Cougar, a devout Texas Longhorn, where she studied English, an active MOPS member, and often feels like a professional juggler. She relishes trips to the theater, loves embarking on new adventures with her family, and admittedly spends too much time on Facebook. A former contributor, Taylor’s posts center on parenting her tenacious, strong-willed first-born and the challenges she faced along the way to becoming a mom of two. She also served as ACM’s editor and resident proofreader, and as such, cares way too deeply about the use of Oxford commas.


  1. I read the two posts you referenced. It looks like those were saying not to reward older children with participation ribbons, etc. Your whole article applies that towards three and four year olds, and based on reading those other two articles, I would bet those authors would agree is quite different.

    • Hey Christina, thanks for reading!

      I agree those two articles aren’t the best examples of articles on the topic of trophies and whether we should give them to our kids. They are just the two that I stumbled upon over the past few weeks. If you google the topic, there are literally DOZENS of articles on the subject.

      Whether kids are older or younger isn’t really the issue to me. I played YMCA/CYO sports all the way up to sixth grade and still got a trophy at the end of every season. To me, the only difference is that my parents didn’t worry about the repercussions of that; they just said, “Hey, great season! Neat trophy!” and that was it. I think that’s more the point I was trying to make in this post: We worry too much…although I admit I am sometimes very guilty of succumbing to it! Thanks for taking the time to comment; I appreciate the feedback!

  2. I love this. I agree that the concern and anger over participation trophies is ridiculous. My kids got participation ribbons when they were in chess tournaments- now it just reminds them of how much fun they had in those tournaments, not that they should be chess masters. I get participation medals after races. Means I finished, not that I should get a spot in the Boston marathon.

    It’s an acknowledgment for showing up, which is already more than so many people do.

  3. Thanks for putting things in perspective for those parents who believe a $10 trophy at the end of a long tball / baseball season!! When they work hard, improve over the season, and give 100% over the course of the season, I think it’s good to celebrate their accomplishments. I mean if you went to a 8-5 job, had gone to college for 4 years and worked hard for a degree in your field, but your employer said “Hey your doing a great job, working hard, giving 110% to everything you do, but I’m not going to give you a raise even though you’ve worked here 10 years and never received one”, wouldn’t you start to get a negative attitude towards your job??? Rewarding for accomplishments is a good thing! I’m not saying you should run out and buy your kid whatever they want, but I really don’t think something like a trophy or ribbon is going to turn my boys into lazy worthless adults.

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