I just came across a post titled: “Why my son won’t be accepting his 100% attendance award.” When I read the title, I swear my eyes rolled so hard that I could see the back of my skull. I thought back to my own time in elementary school in the 1980s and remembered that we had perfect attendance awards even back then. You know, before the advent of the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” philosophy that some modern parents love and some are pushing hard against. So this isn’t a new award created to help build kids’ self-esteem and make them feel special/important/talented/more talented than they really are, right?
But. Then I thought about sitting through the third quarter school assembly for my kindergartener this past school year. One evening, she seemed kind of off, so I took her temperature. It turned out that she was running a low fever. I gave her got some acetaminophen and she went to bed. The next morning, she was fever-free and feeling completely fine.
There’s a rule in the school district, though, that says kids can’t came to school within 24 hours of having a fever. If I sent her, no one ever would have known that she was sick, but I respect that we all work hard to keep our kids healthy. While I am fortunate enough to stay home with the kid, making keeping her home because of illness a mild inconvenience at worst, not everyone at school is so lucky. Plus, I’m a rule follower. (I was absolutely no fun as a kid.)
I kept her home that day, and as a result of following school rules, the kid missed out on her perfect attendance reward. It was a sad day for the whole family because they get coupons for free Dairy Queen, which means we all get to have some delicious DQ because I’m sure as hell not going to sit there and just watch her have ice cream.
So I read the post by mom Rachel Wright who lives in the U.K. (where the final of six school terms end in July). In her post, she explained that her son recently won a perfect attendance award which included time at a favorite play place. Lucky kid. However, she refused the prize for some truly excellent reasons.
It’s her belief that her child had perfect attendance because he’s lucky. Lucky that the family has reliable transportation to get to school, lucky that the child didn’t happen to get sick, lucky that the child doesn’t have a chronic condition that makes regular attendance difficult, and so on. I never thought of perfect attenance that way, but it’s true. On a similar note, she makes the point that she’s the one who gets the kid to and from school—and decides when he’s not going to attend—so the reward should go to her. I did laugh out loud in real life at that one because it’s so true. My five-year-old attends school (or not) because of me and her father. Maybe that’s why we all get ice cream when she has perfect attendance.
Wright goes on to point out that rewarding children who are “lucky,” also sends a negative message about and to kids who, well, weren’t. She notes that sending kids who are unwell to school gives the impression that taking care of ourselves isn’t important. It also equates sickness with weakness, which can lead us all to be less empathetic. What really hit home, though, was her asking her readers to imagine perfect attendance assemblies at work. How would we feel if mental health days, sick days, vacation days, bereavement time, or any other time off resulted in what can feel like a public shaming? Oof. That’s not a company culture that I’d want to be part of.
There are lots of things that we as a society do to kids that not one of us would find acceptable to do to another adult or have done to us. Perfect attendance recognition or shaming is one of those things—and it’s really not necessary, unlike some of things our kids have to suffer that we wouldn’t tolerate. Like booster seats. Why not remove this unnecessary recognition that’s not really acknowledging the child’s accomplishment, and which can send out unintended negative messages?
Check out Wright’s post and share your thoughts in the comments.