Do awards at school motivate or just make others feel badly?

Our son’s school had an end-of-quarter awards ceremony and even though my kid got an award I just hate it as a concept.

Instead of honoring and motivating kids, I think awards just make the other kids who didn’t get awards feel badly. They already know they didn’t have an A average that quarter, and at my son’s school they feel badly about it. I watched one little girl crying with embarrassment that her name wasn’t called. That’s not good.

Let the parents make a big deal about great grades at home or the school can send home a letter or certificate, but I just don’t think it necessary to embarrass the kids that didn’t have an A average that quarter.   I know that’s not their intention but I feel like that’s the result.

What do you think? Are awards a good way to honor the kids who achieved and motivate others to do better? Or just make the other kids feel badly?

70 comments Add your comment


October 7th, 2013
4:41 am

Wanting to be recognized the NEXT time can be a great motivating factor.

Someone taking the time to explain to that little girl that even when you don’t win, you can still be happy for others would make a great life lesson.

That child could have been crying about something completely unrelated.

(All the things I thought as I read this.)

We know now the self-esteem movement has had disastrous results, let’s get the ship turned around. It sounds like this school is doing it’s part.

Judge Smails

October 7th, 2013
5:16 am

The world needs ditch diggers too.

What about the kids that do well that won’t get awards? Why punish them for someone else’s over the top “Won’t someone think of the children” mentality?

OMG!!! That bowling ball is my wife!!!!

October 7th, 2013
5:21 am

Can’t you see? That crying girl is just trying to manipulate the situation. If she can’t hack in school, she can always become a house wife & over the top blogger.

a reader

October 7th, 2013
5:44 am

For little kids (elementary), certificates home are good and if the school wants to do something to celebrate year long achievement it should be done after school hours and families invited. That way the kids who don’t get the awards aren’t sitting there watching, and school day time isn’t being wasted. My kids school used to give out small gift certificates (ice cream places, etc.) each term for a few of the top kids (grades were a minimum requirement, but then teachers chose based on behavior, and were actually pretty good about spreading it around).
In higher grades, certificates by term for honor roll or higher and again, any ceremonies should be done only for year long achievement and should only be done after school hours.
Recognition is fine and good, but don’t waste the time during the school day – too much time is wasted already.


October 7th, 2013
5:58 am

Again, no copy editing at the AJC? You can’t feel badly in this context! You feel bad for someone or something. To feel badly means you have a problem with your hands and fingers and can’t feel something you’ve touched. Sorry but that’s basic grammar. About as bad as “Does coffee make your fat” from last week. Seriously, I know this is a blog, but still.

OMG!!! That bowling ball is my wife!!!!

October 7th, 2013
6:18 am

@abc……So the blogger here did not receive any awards in school, thus the current subject?



October 7th, 2013
6:19 am

Rewards go to a select fee. The same kids wins several rewards. This system only rewards the cream of the crop and leaves the rest out to dry. Rewards should be done away with.


October 7th, 2013
6:20 am

Rewards go to a select few. The same kids wins several rewards. This system only rewards the cream of the crop and leaves the rest out to dry. Rewards should be done away with.


October 7th, 2013
6:47 am


Awards are supposed to be for the cream of the crop.


October 7th, 2013
6:58 am

Maude: well DUH. An award is something you EARN with hard work and dedication, not just because you show up.

I think awards are a great motivator. In real life, no one is gonna give you an award just because you show up to work.


October 7th, 2013
7:06 am

So, in the real world, those who succeed at their jobs and receive a bonus, promotion, or raise as the result should turn this down because not everyone is a success? Geez. And those crying because their name wasn’t called should be the ones putting forth the most effort in order to have their names called the next time. The “cream of the crop” receive rewards because they have earned it.

Mother of 2

October 7th, 2013
7:07 am

Our school had an award ceremony at the end of the year, one ceremony for each grade. Very few students got an award. They were truly exceptional students who deserved recognition. The honor roll students were typically listed and asked to stand in the audience to be recognized. There were sports awards as well, and very few received an award.

Award ceremonies should be held at schools. Students who have achieved something special should be recognized. I’m not sure that being on the honor roll is special enough for an actual award. And quarterly award ceremonies seem excessive.


October 7th, 2013
7:08 am

Here we go again, someone is feeling left out so we should do away with it completely?! This new politically correct world of ours is out of control.

I doubt this award ceremony was a complete shock to the kids, I’m guessing the teacher informed them of it in advance so they had something to work towards. Those who didn’t get an award this time should be motivated to work harder.

@ Maude – the purpose of an award/prize is to reward the cream of the crop. Just because someone isn’t recognized for their poor performance doesn’t mean the whole thing should be done away with.


October 7th, 2013
7:20 am

I currently have 4 boys in school. My first child is one who wins all the awards. It’s started in 3rd grade when he announced (after an awards ceremony) that he was going to win the highest AR reading award. The next year, he did. He read more than the next 2 kids combined. The idea that he could get recognized for working hard motivated him…it didn’t leave him crying in his seat. I have another child who isn’t at the level of my 1st intellectually. He tried to copy his brother and get the highest AR reading award in 4th grade…only he was starting from the lowest reading level in his grade. He went from not passing the CRCT in reading to exceeding reading standards on the CRCT. He didn’t win the highest AR reading award, but he did win most improved…and was very proud of his award. He is now a voracious reader…whereas before he moaned if he even had to pick up a book. So yes, awards work! DO NOT TAKE AWAY AWARDS FOR THOSE WHO WORK HARD!

Young Lady

October 7th, 2013
7:33 am

I think the issue is more that the girl is taking this too hard and that an award ceremony per quarter in elementary school (or middle school) is excessive. Awards are nice recognition of abilities but they don’t motivate anyone.

True motivation comes from within. That’s why the same people are getting the awards again and again. They are motivated to do better, not because of the award because their actions will get them something more than the award. I feel bad that no one is explaining that to this little girl.


October 7th, 2013
7:34 am

Theresa, is it time to renew your socialist membership card. this is an assine subject. if you excel, you should be rewarded. if you dont, learn a lesson and work harder. they do hand out certificates for attendance and behavior. if you cant get one of these, ??. Our country is in this God awful shape because of this additudes


October 7th, 2013
7:44 am

What are the odds (IMO, high) that this girl is crying because…..she is going to get in the car with her parents, and they are going to belittle her for not winning.

Kids usually know who should deserve an award, and aren’t devastated when someone more deserving wins it over them. They will however melt down at the thought that a parent, who is supposed to love and accept them, will instead berate them (soccer, baseball, etc?????)


October 7th, 2013
7:50 am

I don’t think awards are bad as a concept, but quarterly ceremonies? That’s a bit much and puts too much focus on competition. Some competition is good, but too much just becomes discouraging for many kids. And really, for the smart kids who ace everything with little effort, awards given too frequently can start to feel like the oft-derided participation trophies — too big of a deal made out of every A. Save awards for the end of the year.


October 7th, 2013
8:01 am

Some people are rewarded with good jobs/ paychecks as they endured a lot to get there whether education, building their own business or working hard to get in the upper level of their company. Others are crying that this is not fair and that since they have so much money they should be taxed and made to share it . HMMM. Hint: they are not as motivated now.


October 7th, 2013
8:08 am

To defend those quarterly awards ceremonies: Reinforcement needs to be shorter term.

I would argue for academic awards quarterly, and academic and other awards (attendance, citizenship) yearly.


October 7th, 2013
8:13 am

Awards are a nice reward and good motivator. If some child cries, then that tells me the child has been taught to manipulate an audience. Crying works for the child and s/he knows it. I bet the child uses that tactic often. It also tells me that said child has not been taught to be a gracious loser. Not everyone gets an award. Handle it. Work harder. Move on. It is all about life skills. Cry in the workplace and see how that goes.

Young Lady

October 7th, 2013
8:17 am

catlady- Then maybe we should take the parental attendence out of the equation for the quarterly? Less ceremony more assembly?

elbert chambers

October 7th, 2013
8:35 am

I think the schools should reward the kids who struggle the hardest, most improved. Leave sports out of the awards as the sports are or should be separate form academics, as a matter of fact the arts, music, dance, drama, and visual arts and even writing should have their place in the awards functions of school life to promote creativity. The same can be said for science and math,
Let us get the kids involved. There should be a place for all talent levels in grammar and middle and high schools.


October 7th, 2013
8:57 am

Ah, and this form of thinking is why my school came of with the idea of giving everybody a spirit award if they didn’t win something. Really?! There are so many areas that a child can excel outside of core classes. Music, art, physical education. Why not strive for one of those awards. There’s also most improved and citizenship. Awards are not evil. Some kids will win, some won’t. It’s a little thing called life.


October 7th, 2013
9:01 am

Awards should just be for the top students. We’ve gotten to the point that every child on a team wins a trophy and every child in a class must get an award. I have teacher friends that have had difficult times coming up with awards for every student, but were required by their administration. Do we really need to give an award for best smile because the child spent most of the year in ISS but he still had to get a class award? We’re raising entire generations that feel they are owed something just because they exist. They’ve never had consequences for their actions because mommy and daddy have always “fixed” everything. These “children” are now entering the work force and mommy and daddy continue to fix everything, to the point that mother’s are calling the bosses of grown children to complain! Recognize children for their improvement and their continuation to be at the top, but get rid of the great personality, teacher helper awards.

(the other) Rodney

October 7th, 2013
9:04 am

I can’t say it any better than it’s been said above but here’s my 2c – there are life lessons to be learned in this. If you don’t EARN (not win) an award your responsibility is to try harder if you want that award.


October 7th, 2013
9:15 am

I disagree, cobbmom. I don’t think awards should be overdone, but when you have a kid who’s constantly in trouble or a kid that struggles academically, there’s often something else going on (maybe a lousy home life), and I think there’s value in making a point of trying to make that kid feel like they matter and can contribute something good to the class even if that something isn’t good grades. The kids know those awards aren’t the same as being at the top of the class, but they also may think despite being a less than stellar student that their teacher likes something about them, and that they aren’t worthless. Those kinds of awards may not necessarily belong in an academic awards ceremony, but it is good to let all kids know (maybe especially the difficult and low-achieving ones) that they are valued regardless of whether they’re at the top or not.

Warrior Woman

October 7th, 2013
9:20 am

Every economist knows you get more of what your reward. If you want more achievement, reward achievement. If you want more slackers, refuse to award the acheivers for fear of hurting the slackers feelings. Achievement awards can be tailored, however. Massive improvement can be awarded as well as top performance.

Warrior Woman

October 7th, 2013
9:21 am

And I would never give an award for attendance, because it encourages kids to come to school sick.


October 7th, 2013
9:40 am

I think quarterly awards shows are a bit much. I mean, hello — the GRADE you earn is your “reward” for doing the work well. Why do you have to have a certificate on top of it? ‘

I’m with HB — quarterly is too much. A recognition at the end of the year is sufficient.

At my kid’s school, there were much-sought-after academic honors from middle-school on up. But in each subject, the teacher had leeway to give a handful of other awards, and these were the ones that the kids seemed to enjoy — the “most improved”, the “best effort”, etc.

Yeah, some kids don’t get awards. It happens. Some people don’t win the lottery, either. Oh, well. Life goes on. If the parents are hinging their entire love, approval and motivation on an award, it’s the parents failure in parenting, NOT the school’s.


October 7th, 2013
9:43 am

For most of these kids this is the best its ever going to get, they have achived to about all they will ever will, but it will take them 20 years to realize it. Let them have their moment for there won’t be any more for a very long time. Most will learn that life is just one crushing defeat after another with their limited education and wish they had listened as a kid.

Devil's Advocate

October 7th, 2013
9:46 am

It makes me feel bad to see Theresa posing with 3 beautiful children. It makes me feel bad that I don’t get to have a blog on to share my thoughts on various issues and get paid to do it. I should just go lay down and do nothing because I am not rewarded with the great opportunity that Theresa enjoys.


October 7th, 2013
9:51 am

I seriously hoped that we might discuss how the parents are dealing with the 1k plus kids out of school today due to the shutdown.

a reader

October 7th, 2013
9:54 am

Sports awards shouldn’t be given at an academic awards ceremony, unless it’s a “graduation” type thing – 8th grade or 12th that cover everything but only for kids in that grade. They should be given at end of season for that sports participants (and maybe parents) only.

Same for other extra-curricular (see “extra-curricular”).


October 7th, 2013
9:58 am

I think rewards are great, and they tend to motivate others. What is wrong with kids today is that no one is teaching them coping skills. You didn’t get a reward…OK that means try harder next time. It is not the end of the world. You didn’t get invited to the your own thing. Kids are killing themselves because they don’t know how to cope. No I am not discounting the fact that some of these kids are being bullied or abused in some way, but there is a percent of them that just haven’t been taught any coping skills and see death as the only way out.

Life is work, and is sometimes hard. You are not going to always come out on top. You are not going to always be included. What WILL happen is that the sun will come up the next day and the world will keep on turning. With a new day comes a new opportunity.


October 7th, 2013
10:42 am

Know what? Between not using red pens, participation trophies and now not recognizing actual achievement, maybe we should stop coddling kids so much.

Let kids fail. Knowing what it feels like to fail makes people work harder (cut to anyone that’s ever been fired or laid off nodding).


October 7th, 2013
11:22 am

I support awards for high achievers, but think the big formal ceremony should be saved for the end of the school year. And then do something smaller on a quarterly basis like make an announcement over the loud speaker during the morning news or something. This is especially true for elementary grades. They are still learning how to deal with the fact that sometimes their best isn’t good enough.

I also like Reader’s idea about having a ceremony and only invite the kids (and parents) who are being awarded. Everyone gets dressed up and has a special evening, and no little kid has to feel embarrassed.

I don’t support “particiaption trophies” for just showing up or not using red ink and all of that other “everyone is a winner” stuff. I am a huge supporter of allowing kids to fail. But having said that, I don’t agree that all kids who struggle are slackers. I believe that all kids want to do well. They want to please their parents and teachers. But sometimes they either just don’t have the IQ to do it or there are other issues going on. We should have more empathy. There is a way that we can honor high achievers and still be empathetic to the kids who will likely never be that smart.

Once Again

October 7th, 2013
11:36 am

The fundamental problem is that traditional schools simply don’t care that all the others have completed the year more ignorant of the subject than those receiving the awards. It matters not that these kids will go on to the next grade without the needed knowledge foundation to fully understand those ideas that build upon that foundation. Awards for achievement are not the issue. They were certainly a motivating thing for me, but more importantly was a school and parents that had the expectation and took the time to insure that I actually understood the material and LEARNED.

That is sadly absent in all government run institutions and far too many privately run ones as well.

Real Life

October 7th, 2013
12:41 pm

Awards can and should be great motivators. When others received awards when I was young I did not cry, nor did my friends. Same in high school, college, grad school and even work.
One of the biggest obstacles we face in education (as well as sports and other activities) is constantly rewarding students for average or mediocre work. This self-esteem bandwagon, which started in the 1980s has done more harm than good. Students get used to being recognized for doing nothing extraordinary. And when they finally face a situation where the award is for outstanding work then they may have a hard time dealing with it. Healthy self-esteem comes from being successful in studies, activities, etc. and also learning to deal appropriately with the time you are less than successful or even fail at something.
There is no harm in recognizing students who have outstanding work for the period of time. The harm comes in shying away from recognizing those who have achieved out of fear of upsetting someone who has not reached the same level. Yes, this can be devastating and it has happened to many of us throughout our lives. And most of us have actually survived it without major damage to our self-esteem.


October 7th, 2013
12:50 pm

Not only is competition a great motivator, it is also a great equalizer.

Our son’s school had an end-of-quarter awards ceremony and even though my kid got an award I just hate it as a concept.

It’s telling that you found it necessary to mention that YOUR KID was not a loser.

If you REALLY feel THAT badly, tell YOUR KID to give his award to the little girl.

’tis the liberal thing to do.

Atlanta Mom

October 7th, 2013
12:55 pm

I agree with HB.
You’ve got the smart kids (with the good genes and a solid home life) who simply show up and get straight A’s and the kids who work really hard. Who should get the awards?
My kids were the ones who merely had to show up to get the As. The awards were a joke at our house.


October 7th, 2013
1:29 pm

@SEE: Regarding what you said: I have another child who isn’t at the level of my 1st intellectually. He tried to copy his brother and get the highest AR reading award in 4th grade…only he was starting from the lowest reading level in his grade. He went from not passing the CRCT in reading to exceeding reading standards on the CRCT. He didn’t win the highest AR reading award, but he did win most improved…and was very proud of his award. He is now a voracious reader…whereas before he moaned if he even had to pick up a book. So yes, awards work! DO NOT TAKE AWAY AWARDS FOR THOSE WHO WORK HARD!

I’d love to hear some details about how your child showed so much improvement! To go from not passing the CRCT to a voracious reader is quite an accomplishment and as the mother of a child struggling with reading I’d love any tips you can share. I get that he was motivated by the challenge of it and that’s great, but I’m also wondering if you used any particular reading system, or anything else to help get him on track. Mine has struggled with reading and has improved quite a bit with lots of individual instruction but still does not seem to “enjoy” it. Just looking for tips!


October 7th, 2013
1:44 pm

Awards are SUPPOSED to be for people who are above-average. If your kid is upset that he/she didn’t get an award- tell the child to work harder next time! I run 5ks as a hobby. I know that if I want to place in my age group that I better train harder & smarter than my competition.

I agree with Witchy Woman- children need to be taught coping skills so that they can deal with disappointment in a healthy way.


October 7th, 2013
2:05 pm

I agree that quarterly awards are too much and think they should be held at the end of the year. When my son was in kindergarten, I used to take an extended lunch break to attend his quarterly “awards day” programs. As others have said, EVERYONE “won” something even if it was just a pencil or a coupon for a free ice cream cone from McDonalds. I appreciated that his school had it organized by grade so you only had to be there for your kid’s grade and it moved very quickly. The kids would file in with their teacher and sit on the floor in front of the stage until their class was called. Mrs. MJG would go on stage with her class and go alphabetically down the roll and announce the awards for her class, everyone would applaud once for her class and as her class exited from the left, Mrs Catlady’s class would enter from the right and do the same thing. The whole grade would be done in about 30 and that included the few minutes allowed at the end for parents to take pictures and speak to the teacher.

Subsequent grades were done the same way but it was no longer feasible for me to leave work to attend. I was relieved to find out my son figured how it worked and didn’t care at all that I couldn’t attend. He “won” student of the month in first grade and I didn’t until his teacher pointed out his picture in the trophy case while I was their for a conference. When I asked about it he told me (in front of the teacher) that it wasn’t special because the student who won the month before has bad grades and has to move his clip to red everyday. Once he was out of earshot, the teacher admitted that he was right and that it was embarrassing that a first grader was able to figure it out.


October 7th, 2013
2:52 pm

Give out awards for the parents:
Most useless
Best helicopter
Most Paranoid
Most Absentee
Most Oblivious
Biggest Whiner
Most Delusional


October 7th, 2013
3:05 pm

For me, it’s just another thing I have to tell my child I have to miss, because I work. I also don’t like the idea because so many teachers complain about having to cram in so much information in such a short amount of time, well skip the awards, pizza parties for the most amount of money raised for such and such, book fairs, etc.


October 7th, 2013
4:55 pm

@ Kelly…I do not know your nor your child. PLEASE try to attend some of the things that you, as a parent, are invited to. The look on children’s faces when their parent is not there is very sad. I realize that you cannot be there for everything but if you cannot take off for anything, your child knows what is more important. YES I know we have to eat and have a roof over our heads!


October 7th, 2013
5:30 pm

@Atlanta Mom: You’ve got the smart kids (with the good genes and a solid home life) who simply show up and get straight A’s and the kids who work really hard. Who should get the awards?

The kids who master and can demonstrate a superlative mastery of the material. Any other questions?

Well, guess what. Not every kid with good genes and a solid home life is a straight A student. For every kid who doesn’t have to lift a pencil to make an “A”, there’s another one who has to struggle for hours each night just to get a B. If you have a kid who isn’t working to make an A, then as far as I’m concerned, s/he isn’t being challenged and it’s up to the school and the parent to step it up. Gifted programs? Oh, puh-leeze. Throw as much at them as they can take, until they start to sweat. When they have to start frowning over their homework, or find that an “A” on an exam takes more work than just remembering the stuff that was covered in the two-day test review (*cough*), then maybe they are exercising the rest of their brain. So many public schools are already dumbed down to the lowest common denominator because of this stupid “let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings” b.s., the truly talented academically gifted kids get as lost in the shuffle as the ones targeted for special ed. — more so, because everyone figures that the academically talented kids will ‘take care of themselves.’ What kind of educational system assumes that a student needs to just handle the material themselves, because, oh, wait, we need to throw all our resources at kids who are, in all likelihood, going to be marginal societal contributors?

What I’d REALLY like to see is a return to a more strenuous grading system, where an “A” is 95-100, a B is 88-94, a C is 80-87, and a D is 75-10. Basically, you have kids now getting Hope Scholarship that would have been getting a C-minus when I was in high school. That would also give an added incentive to kids who would cruise by on low 90’s, not making an effort and getting an “A” — they’d actually have to study :-) Why in the heck did they ever lower the grading scale?


October 7th, 2013
5:31 pm

Let’s all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Give me a break, TWG. Kids who are sheltered from competition will grow up not knowing how to function in the real world.

There are winners, and there are losers. Not everyone can get a prize. Best to learn that lesson as a child when the stakes are lower.


October 7th, 2013
8:23 pm

Seriously?? I mean really? This is why men call it the feminization of america. When I didn’t win in field day or in class I tried harder and rand faster the next time to make sure I did. I wanted to be in the top 4 and get me something and yeah I showed my stuff on the bus and at home to my parents. If you don’t win, you lose. deal with it and go back to the drawing table. My cowboys played well but still got an “L” yesterday. No moral victories.