Something happened at Annie’s gymnastics class last week that had her near tears as we left, and I didn’t know what to think about it for a good stretch until I finally was able to wrap my head around what happened.
If you’re thinking, “Gymnastics class? I haven’t heard about those in a while,” it’s because we decided not to sign Annie up for the summer session so she could focus on learning how to swim. Now that the summer is over, we enrolled Annie in a new gymnastics class for kids three and a half to four and a half. This class is the step-up from her last one, which was for kids two and a half to three and half.
Annie was excited to be back in gymnastics, and pretty much picked up right where she left off once class began. There were a few moments, though, when she and some of the other girls didn’t follow directions nearly as well as they should.
When the class finished Annie was the first one into the waiting room, but instead of being happy (her usual post-gymnastics mood), she was distressed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“She didn’t give me a stamp.”
Stamps, you see, are a big thing at gymnastics. Annie’s previous class always ended with the instructor giving each kid a stamp on the hand, and they always acted like they’d been handed a briefcase with a million dollars in it.
“Go back in and tell her you didn’t get a stamp,” Heather suggested. We both assumed that since Annie was the first one into the waiting room the instructor had simply missed her.
Annie nodded and went back into the gym as another girl entered, crying. Heather and I exchanged a glance as Annie returned looking even more distressed.
“She said ‘I told you no stamp,’” Annie said.
Just then another girl skipped into the waiting room, beaming.
“Look, Mom!” she said. “I got a stamp because I was a good listener!”
It suddenly became clear that the instructor was using the stamps as an incentive for the girls to behave in class. The good listeners got stamps; the others didn’t.
Heather and I quickly put Annie’s shoes on and hurried her to the car because we didn’t want her throwing a fit over the stamp. She didn’t do that, though. She just seemed sad and hurt.
As we drove away anger surged inside of me. These are just little girls, I thought, and they’re used to getting stamps! Why not just give them the stupid stamp? Who does this instructor think she is?
Heather, on the other hand, was on-board with the instructor.
“Annie wasn’t being a good listener,” she said in that hushed voice parents use when they don’t want their kids to hear them. “She needs to see that’s not going to be rewarded.”
“I know,” I replied as we drove off. “But they always get stamps -”
“The younger class always got stamps. She’s in the next level up now.”
I didn’t respond because everything Heather said made sense. Annie hadn’t listened and that behavior shouldn’t be rewarded. I just hated to see her sad.
When we stopped at a red light Heather turned around to face Annie.
“Were you a good listener in class today?”
Annie shook her head.
“Are you supposed be a good listener?”
“You understand why you didn’t get a stamp then?”
“Because I wasn’t a good listener.”
“That’ right. Be a good listener next week and you’ll get a stamp, okay?”
I watched Annie in the rear view mirror as the light changed, and I could see on her face that in that moment she was learning a lesson. Her expression was repentant, and it was clear she understood why she didn’t receive a stamp.
The good news is that very quickly Annie was laughing and no longer concerned about the business with the stamp. Annie learned her lesson, and I guess I did, too: what’s best for your kids isn’t always what makes them happiest. That’s a tough one for a parent to accept, but it’s true.
It is hard to learn lessons sometimes as the parent! I think it is worse when it is another adult teacher your kid rather than you or your spouse!
On the other hand, don’t you wish sometimes that all you had to do was give them a stamp? Only seems to work for gym class though, at home they look at me like I a crazy! Who wants a stamp when mama has chocolate?
Becca Masters says:
Ooof. This broke my heart!
Parenting is so hard! Emotionally I mean.
I hope Annie gets a stamp next week.
Long time reader, first time commenter. Very, very well put. I’m a teacher and parents often come in complaining that another child received a reward so why didn’t their child get one. Kids should work to earn a reward and they (generally!) learn that lesson pretty quick!
Having said that…. no stamp in baby ballet seems pretty harsh. If it were me teaching the class I would have gone for a stamp for everyone and an extra one for the ‘good listeners’. An incentive but no one misses out!
I too am a VERY LONG time reader and first time commenter! I’ve been teaching in special education for 30 years and I cringed, both for you and for Annie when reading this one! I’m not in support of children having to EARN rewards but rather being recognized for doing something well!! Every one of us is “differently abled” and it is NEVER okay to send a child home feeling like a failure, no matter the age!! I totally agree with Christie! EVERYONE gets a stamp (for SOMETHING they were caught doing WELL) and if listening was the targeted behavior, perhaps an extra stamp for that. An incentive but no one misses out! Parents need to SUPPORT those in leadership roles and to PARTNER WITH THEM! If the person in charge of your child is unable or unwilling to individualize for the needs of each child, then you’re in the wrong class and with the wrong teacher! Your gut could not have been more accurate on this!!
Damn. Down with this stamp business. Teacher, don’t make me come down there and steal your stupid stamp. It’s a long way, like crossing oceans and such, but I will if you make me. Annie, you will get the stamp, just listen to your teacher.
this is the hardest part of the parenting gig for me, for sure. but its also the most important…my hubby reminds me frequently that our job isnt to please our children, it is to make them into productive law abiding joyful adults. ugh! I once pulled donuts for a bday class party on our 6 year old (not thinking in my haste of discipline over a lie–thats a fun stage BTW) and I cried more than he did after I dropped him off, but had to follow through. He hasn’t lied since…and I pray that someday again when he is tempted to he will stop and think of consequences. Ya’ll are just awesome and I enjoy your blog so much. You are raising amazing joyful adults, keep up the good work!
I have to agree with Heather and the teacher on this one.
This so broke my heart and I was right there feeling your parenting pain. My daughter too is in Gymnastics and was left out of the “play pit” because she wasn’t a good listener. My daughter is almost 2 1/2 but is playing with the big kids in 3T-4T. It’s hard to watch them attempt to learn a lesson but hold on and know this stamp pain will pass
That’s a tough one, especially when they are so young. Glad she got over it easily but I’m with you, I would be tempted to run over and grab the stamper.
I’m thinking that she’ll get a stamp this week. It’s probably a GREAT incentive.
I taught gymnastics (ages 18 months to 14 years) for a long time. Loved every second of it. The stamps (well, we used stickers) may be the only thing keeping some kiddos from sprinting across the gym into the vaulting lane. It is a kind way to wrangle many tiny, energetic gymnasts at once. Glad Annie rebounded so quickly. I had a parent ream me out for the ‘no listening, no sticker’ policy. You guys are doing great!
When I was reading this I wasn’t sure which way this was going to go.(well played/written) I teach preschool yoga and if you aren’t listening or are asked to sit out after 3 warnings then you also don’t get a stamp. As a teacher to keep the children safe as well as teach them we need them to listen and as silly as a stamp is to an adult it is a motivating factor for a child.
Colleen MN says:
I agree with Heather as well, The gym can be a very dangerous place for small children that are not listening. Listening is for Annie’s benefit and in a preschool class, the teacher has to have the attention of every student. These kids respond to stamps so that has to be the strategy. They are too young to understand why listening is important, so they are being taught how to do it in a way they can relate to. Hope she has fun in her class next time!
“They are too young to understand why listening is important, so they are being taught how to do it in a way they can relate to.” Exactly. Well said.
What a hard lesson (for both you and Annie!). Thank you for sharing it with us. xo
I love this! I was always against the, “only trophies for those who earned 1st place” until last year. Our soccer team tied in two games and so another team with one more win than us got this big trophies and we got the same trophies as all the losing teams.
I wanted to argue that my son was only 6 and all of the kids should get the same trophies. Then I stopped to think about it and my little guy barely ran. He would get upset if they lost but he didn’t really put in much effort. Are children are reflections of us and we don’t like them to be reprimanded or slighted in any way but doing that gives them a false sense of entitlement.
They have to earn things they get in life. Whether it be a stamp or a trophy. It is a really tough lesson but one worth learning for them (and us).
Entitlement! 100%, except it’s not giving them a “false” sense of entitlement, it’s giving them a very real sense of entitlement … and while we hate to see our kids hurt, do we really want to see them fail on the bigger stage of life because we’ve willingly given them this entitlement complex?
It’s all well and good to give all the kids stamps and the listeners something extra, but that’s not how it works when you grow up. In the workforce everyone doesn’t get a bonus and then the really good workers get an extra bonus. Nope. The really good workers (well, these days the bonus is to just keep your job, but I digress) get a bonus. Average workers get their regular pay. And it’s perfectly okay to be average … but I certainly don’t want my sons to expect to be rewarded for being average.
I have a 4.5 year old in gymnastics as well and I really wish that they’d have a mini-session with the parents to establish an understanding of their methodology, what skills the kids need to attain (how to do them to help cement the skills at home), and class rules like the no stamps for not listening. This way you can easily enforce the concept with your child.
I also have to agree with the teacher and Heather.
TBH, I’m not so sure about how this particular lesson was handled by the teacher, because Annie seemed just sad and lost about not getting a stamp. Once Heather explained it to her, she learned a lesson. I wish the teacher had spelled out for Annie and the other girls without stamps that they could improve their behavior next week the way Heather did, rather than just tell her no stamp for bad behavior.
Our kids can’t have and can’t win everything and teaching them that they can is a disservice. As hard as it is, saying no to them is good for them.
My heart broke reading this. Poor little Annie. Such a hard lesson for a little girl. But it was the right thing to do. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.
I am on the other end of the parenting journey (my daughter is 24 and firmly launched into her independence) – she had friends whose protective parents blocked all kinds of consequences, smoothed the road for their kids and did everything to make them happy. The result? Those “kids” are still kids – sitting in basements all over town waiting for things to be happen without any real effort on their part. The irony? Those kids turned out to be the UNhappiest young adults…
Wow. That is ironic and very sad.
Yep…maybe if mommy and daddy had made them EARN their stamps things would be different now.
I have commented before that I am so impressed that you all don’t just give Annie any and everything after losing your precious Maddie. I still struggle with trying to make everything perfect for my soon-to-be 16 yr old and 10 yr old. Of course, I always notice my husband doing it before I see the plank in my own eye:)
I agree, it is hard to watch your kids be sad or have hurt feelings, but they need to in order to learn. Sometimes they’ll learn to behave better. Sometimes they’ll learn that life isn’t always fair. I am not looking forward to those tough moments when, for instance, my girls get snubbed by another kid. My instinct will be to pull a helicopter move, but I hope I’ll instead let them learn the hard way. Kids who deal with natural struggles end up being more balanced adults. But it’s no fun!
I love how the two of you work together to parent even when you initially would handle things a different way. If that had been my husband he wouldn’t have let me even get a word out without arguing his point in front of our daughter. I’ve lost all creditability with her. It’s so refreshing to see parents doing it right and together.
I agree with you Heather. I had the same situation happen to my daughter. And while it was a ‘hard’ lesson, it was effective and impactful. It only happened once! And it lays the groundwork for bigger life lessons.
It’s a hard pill to swallow as a parent when we see our kids upset. We want to band aid every boo boo and fight every injustice they encounter… but we can’t. These are life lessons and shape who our kids will be. Annie learned that not listening means no stamp. Period.
My daughter goes to the dance school I went to as a little girl and the same enforcement of rules is STILL being implemented. Listening and trying means a star at the end class. Worked 30 plus years ago.. still works today.
My 4-year-old’s preschool uses stamps as a reward, much like Annie’s gymnastics class. And the parents know exactly how their kids behaved in school if they don’t have a stamp. That said, it’s still hard not to see your kid with a stamp. But the lesson will stick. My daughter only came home without a stamp in PK3 once, and she hated it so much that she made sure it never happened again. (I wish she’d behave that well at home.)
Love this post. But I think the other underlying lesson that was so hard for you as a parent is that your child is not always perfect and other people notice. I am well aware that my children misbehave, and I regularly hand out consequences. I’m okay if they get mad or sad. But the times when I pick them up at daycare and the teacher has a negative report of some kind, I just want to hit her in her stupid face.
Wow lady, glad I’m not your kids’ teacher!
Gosh, I don’t think that was interpreted in the way I intended. I was kind of trying to make a joke about how, when someone else has to discipline your kid, it’s all mixed up with your own embarrassment and defensiveness. Like the mama bear, but also a touch of humiliation that I didn’t parent well enough in the first place. I am always respectful of my kid’s teachers and do anything I can to work with them and make their jobs as easy as possible. It’s just kind of hard sometimes, in the monent to hear negative feedback about my kids and a part of me is upset when it happens. But maybe I’m the only one who feels that way! Just trying to contribute to a discussion re: an interesting take on a part of parenting. Just another example that it is important to look at perspective and intentions when we relate to each other! So, to be clear, I do not advocate violence against teachers.
My only question with the whole episode is whether the kids were told at the beginning of class that this is a class for older kids, and more is expected, and so the stamp would only be a reward for those kids who did listen well…next week will something else happen that might cause Annie to not get her stamp? Kids need to be informed of rules, not just denied the rewards after the fact.
That is SUCH a hard one to learn…for all of us. And the hard part is, they will have to learn these lessons over and over. When Seth was in 2nd grade, his teacher called it “making a memory”. She said sometimes memories hurt, and those are the ones we really learn from. I loved that and use that with all my kids now.
*sigh* this is one of the really hard parts of parenting.