Let Kids Taste Success and Then Have It Ripped Away

I am my son’s biggest fan! I cheer him on and I support him 100%. I want him to do well and succeed all the time! When he accomplishes something, I feel that excitement, tenfold! It brings us mommies so much joy to see these tiny humans do big things and feel that pride in accomplishing them! But, what happens when they don’t accomplish them? Or, what happens when they get so close and then fail? Moreover, what happens if they potentially failed at the mercy of someone else? How do we react in a manner that still teaches the lesson?


My son…my second child, mind you…needed a little motivation with his school conduct. Nothing too terrible, as we’ve seen immense improvement over the years (see how we did that here). However, we started to see a slight slip, so we needed to adjust our reward system a bit. Always looking for a competitive angle, my son asked if there could be a prize if he would go an entire week with no conduct marks. He dangled; I bit – Game on!

This was a great opportunity for my son to determine is own success. I wanted him to come up with each weekly reward so that he would be more motivated in accomplishing a clean conduct tracker each week.

1 week with no marks = a coke Friday night with dinner

2 weeks with no marks = an Icee from RaceTrac

3 weeks with no marks = $5.00

4 weeks….a whole month…with absolutely NO marks =  “Yes Day”

He knew the assignment and worked his butt off. Days went by, and no marks were earned, propelling him into a span of good behavior even warranting a positive email from the teacher and a class reward of star student for the week. He even got his siblings in on the fun, as they, too, wanted to reap some rewards! He constantly looked to us, his biggest fans, for motivation asking, “You think I can do it?!”

After 3 solid weeks of well-behaved effort, things got exciting.

The “Yes Day” was just in grasp. With each passing day, his anticipation of the big reward only grew. That entire last week, he began mapping out the day as both my husband and I got a little nervous not knowing exactly what we would be saying “yes” to. The final morning had arrived, and he was ready and excited. In just a mere 8 hours, he knew he would have his “Yes Day”, and he would have accomplished something so big and so monumental for his short little life. I think that the feeling of such accomplishment was bigger than any reward at this point.

But, then…

On that final Friday afternoon, the carpool pickup was not the exciting weekend kick-off we had anticipated. It was quite the opposite. My poor boy was in tears and completely heartbroken, unable to speak even, because on that last and final day of the entire month, he got a mark. Talk about deflating. It was just the saddest car ride home. He couldn’t even convey to us what exactly the mark was for; he was sobbing.

What’s the next step?

Of course, my initial reaction was wondering why the teacher gave him a mark. Should I email her about his “Yes Day” and hopefully get some sympathy? Should I email her for clarity on the mark? I need answers; my son needs answers. Man, if only they had known how crucial this day was, would they have given him the mark?! But, after some moments of deep breaths and thinking this through, none of those were the correct route. Here’s why:

I’m not mad at anyone. I’m not disappointed with anyone. And, I have no intention of emailing anyone for clarity. I know, love, and trust his teachers, and if they gave him a mark, I’m sure it was earned in some way. I’m bummed for my son, and it breaks my heart to see him so down on himself when he was just so close he could taste it! However, this is not the time to question his teachers. I couldn’t let my emotions of this almost-accomplishment cloud my judgment on what to do next.

After I gave him some time to be upset, I told him that it flat-out sucks. I told him it was perfectly ok to feel upset and to scream into a pillow (which he proceeded to do). He was so close and what he’s feeling is that sweet taste of victory just yanked from him. It’s gut-punching, even. He actually likened it to a game-winning point in a championship game – losing at the buzzer. But, he realized he would never quit a sport just because he lost the big game, so he knew he would need to pick himself up and try again on Monday. That was the new plan.

We don’t always need to demand answers.

Mommies, as much as it breaks your hearts to witness your child taste the success and then lose it so quickly, even if we have to depend on others, trust the process and trust your teachers. This is not the time to demand clarity or to contest a decision. Let kids fail so they can learn that sometimes they have to work a little bit harder. I have no doubt my boy can do it after witnessing all he has done in the last month. Parents can’t always swoop in and save the day. We can’t let our children see that the teacher was wrong and they were right. We can’t always win. It’s tough to swallow but hold back and let them feel all of this.

He was sad over that weekend. He stuffed his face with the comfort food I got him while watching Yes Day on Netflix. But, come Monday morning, we picked our heads up and tried again. Sometimes the bigger prize requires an even bigger effort, and that’s our lesson here. As proud as I was for watching him work this last month, I was even prouder of the relatable comparison he came to and his willingness to try harder just as he would in a big championship game.

He knows his new assignment. Game on!

Jennifer Gonzales
Wife to my high school sweetheart, Ross, and mother to 5 children: Trip, Conner, McKenzie, Piper, and Sutton, I am a born and raised Southern Louisiana Lady. I am a graduate of Mt. Carmel Academy, received my Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Secondary Ed. from LSU followed by my Master’s of Education from UNO, and for the past 15 years, I have been outwitting high school boys as an English teacher at Holy Cross School. When I’m not grading papers, driving to baseball practices, or making grocery runs, I can be found cheering on my LSU Tigers, cutting up with my girlfriends, and attempting DIY projects around the home. I’m all about sippin’ some wine during the sunset while the kiddos play in the yard and the hubby works the grill. I’m living my best mommy life these days and am always happy to share the journey with others!



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