Rest Day Rant: Too Young to Learn?

Posted: September 8, 2012 by Jim in Random Thoughts


This is without a doubt the most controversial Rant I’ve written to date. Some of you may be very offended at my views and may think what I describe with my child equate to horrible parenting or worse. Please remember, the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. It’s perfectly okay for you to disagree…in fact, feel free. Let’s just not get emotional about it. The child I describe in this Rant is mine, and anyone who has spent 20 seconds around her knows she is happy and full of life (and herself).

Let’s start today’s Rant with some contextual video. Please NOTE: the following video contains profanity. If such language is offensive to you, please do not watch. You will be able to understand my points just fine without it.

Today was the First Annual Anatomies 1 Mile Fun Walk and Carnival to support National Childhood Obesity Awareness Day. Team Moore has been told all week that we will participate and put forth our very best effort.

So we arose bright and early and, given that I live in the Ocean of Estrogen, time was given to find the perfect race-day clothing. My three-year-old, Josie, was particularly excited and picked out the cutest outfit and proclaimed, “I’m ready to WORK HARD!”

Prior to the event, we didn’t talk about a “race” or “winning” or receiving “awards.” The point made to our children was that we had another unique opportunity to improve our health and fitness through the application of our best effort.

First of all, let me say that I realize that a mile is a LONG distance for a three-year-old. So, the events I’m about to describe should not be confused with a parent who pushes their child to some incredibly ridiculous standard that even an Olympian could not achieve. Today was nothing more than a vitally important learning opportunity.

So we arrived at Anatomies and commenced on our ritualistic pre-workout stretching routine. As always, I tried to “pump” both Kennedy and Josie up to help motivate them to put forth their best effort. Josie was seriously excited. When we approached the starting line, we actually had to hold her so she wouldn’t take off too early.

Then the race started. Four laps around a ¼ mile track was the task at hand. Josie informed me that people who run work harder than those who walk. I agreed with her, so we set off on our run. Never did we encourage Josie to try and beat anyone else, even though kids older than her were passing us left and right. This was billed as a “fun walk,” but kids are kids, so most of them ran.

Josie completed the entire first lap without stopping. That’s pretty dang impressive for a three-year-old in South Mississippi humidity in my opinion. The whole time, we were pouring praise and encouragement on her. At the end of the first lap, the trainer in me clicked in and I directed her to walk a bit (to allow for some recovery). Still, she was feeling good about the event so we spent most of the second lap interspersing runs with short recovery walks. Spectators cheered her on the whole way, and she drank this up like a famished kitten in a bowl of cream.

The third lap began a different tale. “Daddy, I want to go home.” “Daddy, my tummy hurts.” “Mommy, hold me.” I was able to give her physical benchmarks to aim for before stopping, such as, “let’s run to the tree and then we’ll walk.” It wasn’t pretty, but Josie was able to finish the third lap.

Shouts of encouragement such as, “This is the last lap, JoJo,” got us about 20 feet before a meltdown started. My goal was for Josie to finish on her own. Note that at no time did she demonstrate any physical symptoms that would suggest she needed to stop. She was just fighting that voice to quit for the first time in her young life.

The last lap took almost as long as the first three combined, but as she saw the finish line, she told me, “Daddy, let’s run to the end,” and we both crossed the finish line in a full run. Everyone gave her high fives and cheers. Josie then spent the next thirty minutes playing carnival games and hearing from many adults’ statements such as, “you worked so hard,” and “you ran so fast.” Her smile suggested it was perhaps akin to Christmas morning for her.

Now, here’s where the teachable moment begins. “Attention race participants. Please gather around the stage for our awards ceremony.”

Josie was the first person to the stage. The top six children in the six and under category were announced. Josie’s focus on the event was well beyond the focus most three-year-olds would allocate to such a happening. Her name wasn’t called. Josie said nothing. She clapped for every child who received a medal. Next, the top six in the seven and over category were announced. Again, Josie clapped for every child, while listening intently and intensely. The stage then cleared and children returned to the carnival. Josie stayed at the stage.

“Where’s my award and prize?”

“Josie, you did a great job to finish that big run, but these children finished faster than you. You did great, but you didn’t earn an award.”

“I want an award. I WORKED HARD.”

“Josie, you did work very hard. But you also stopped and walked a lot because you were tired and you said your tummy hurt. When you stopped or walked, these children kept running. Therefore, though you did work very hard, they worked harder.”

Josie listened to every word I said as evidenced by sustained eye contact with me the entire time. When the word “harder” left my lips, she melted down. Intense crying, sprinkled with, “I want an award for working hard” continued as she spiraled into an abyss of emotionality. She sought comfort and coddling from her mother.

Now, freeze and look away from the computer and ask yourself what you would do in this situation. Think about it hard and very honestly.

At that moment, I recognized this as the same type of situation I have encountered with my two older children. With my first baby, Alex, I feel I got this wrong all the time. Here’s how I would have reacted when Alex was that age.

“Excuse me Miss Event Coordinator. First of all, why is a three-year-old grouped with six-year-olds? You should have had a tots division. Second of all, how do you know that some of these kids completed all four laps. (In fact, even with Josie, when I checked her in at the finish line table, I said, ‘I don’t know about everyone else, but Josie Moore finished all four laps…’ Yes, I’m awful like that). “Miss Event Coordinator, EVERY child should receive the SAME award.” Note, all participants today received a certificate. I honestly used to believe that if one child received a medal, ALL children should receive a medal.

Today, this is what happened: We took Josie inside Anatomies to the Kidz Zone and did not discuss the event any further. I simply told her, “Remember today so that next time, if you want an award, you can remember that awards come with hard work.”

She usually loves going to the Kidz Zone, but she was inconsolable today. Most parents, I feel, would have tried to conjure up some equivalent “special” award to help end the meltdown, or perhaps in some misguided attempt to rescue their child’s self-esteem. Admittedly, early in my parenting career, this is exactly how I would have reacted. But, today, I was content to let her live in this feeling of despair. It was very hard for me to commit to this course of action.

Then an interesting thing happened. Laura brought Josie back out to the lobby. JoJo was still sitting in her mother’s lap whimpering. When she saw me approach, she looked me in the eye and said, “Daddy, I want to run again.”

“Josie, we will run again another day.”

“No DaDa. I want to run now and I want to do better.”

Please do not miss the fact that we did not talk about trying to “make up” for her previous effort. In my personal and professional (from my years as a child psychologist) opinion, I believe she, on her own accord, decided that the consequences of her previous effort were not to her liking and she wanted to try and make a better attempt.

So I said, “Of course we will run again right now Josie. How about one more lap?”

“Will I earn an award?” Note her use of the word “earn.”

I made the decision to set up a new learning contingency. “Josie, if you make it around the track one time without stopping at all, you will get on stage and earn an award. It will not be a medal, but it will still be an award for trying even harder. But if you stop even one time, or walk, even one time, then we are going home and there will be no award at all. Do you understand?

“Yes Sir.”

“So what happens if we run without stopping?”

“I get on stage and earn an award.” Another use of the word, “earn.”

“But what happens if you stop or walk even one time?”

“We go home and I don’t get an award.”

When we stood at the starting line, Josie declared, “let’s do this thing!” Out of the five total laps Josie ran today, the last lap was by far the easiest of them all. Not once did I have to encourage Josie not to stop. The whole time, she said things such as, “I’ve got to work hard to earn my award,” or “I think I can, I think I can.” There’s an incredibly tough hill on the first half of the track that even breaks me down at times. Determined, Josie yelled, “I can do this.”

We crossed the finish line to no fanfare. There were no cheers, other than her mother and her sister, and no shouts of praise or encouragement. This was just between Josie and her inner self. Valerie Folkes, the person who worked her butt off the pull off today’s awesome event, gave me Josie’s certificate of participation. A three-year-old child has no idea what a certificate of achievement is or what it means. All Josie knew was that this was her “award.” I had no need to create some “special” award that no other child received.

I placed Josie on the stage. No one was around, nor did I even attempt to recruit anyone’s attention. Upon making the “formal” presentation of Josie’s award, she first looked at the certificate and said, “But I want a medal.” I said, “this is your award today. Next time, maybe you can earn a medal, but today, you won by refusing to quit.”

She looked at her certificate, and then, well, the picture speaks better than anything I could write.

On the way home, Josie wouldn’t’ let go of her certificate and possibly could have burned a hole through it if her gaze had laser-like power. She asked me, “Daddy, can we frame this like Sissy’s awards?” Kennedy has several framed awards for her past teams’ soccer accomplishments and the newspaper story on her winning entry in the overall Petal Elementary Science Fair a few years ago.

“Of course we’ll frame your award, Baby Girl. I’m so very proud of you.”

Then, almost as an aside, I heard a throat clear and Kennedy, who is now 12, who finished the entire race before anyone else today, but didn’t receive an award because she forgot to check in at the finish line table, asked, “are you proud of me?”

“Of course I’m proud of you Kakey Jo. Team Moore was well represented today!”

Perhaps I could go on for a few more paragraphs about what I think today meant for Josie in the grand scheme of life. Maybe you think what I did today was horrible. The words here are my opinions, and I will allow you to make up your own mind about today. I hope you will leave comments here or on Facebook, no matter what opinion you form.  I can tell you that, as of the moment of writing this Rant, Josie is having a wonderfully magnificent day. We’ve had to strategically hide her certificate so she doesn’t try to nap with it.

Did you miss a past rant? Check out some of the other rumblings and grumblings from CrossFit Infragilis’ resident big mouth at the links below:

Olympic Lifting Technique

Burn the Boats

Intensity and Results

Diet and Results

Strength Training

Logic, Reason, and Lifting

Stress and Results

Embrace Weaknesses

Your HeadSpace and CrossFit

Courage (Part 2)

Courage (Part 1)

Olympic Lifting Technique (long)

  1. Donna says:

    Well played, my friend. Well played. I say you “earned” a reward today yourself…in parenting.

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