19 Dec 2023

What to do when prizegiving leaves children empty handed

From Nine To Noon, 9:30 am on 19 December 2023

Schools have been holding their annual prizegivings a time to celebrate achievement. But what about the children who don't get to go up on the stage?

There are many other ways parents and caregivers can "honour the wonderful human that they are, regardless of prizes", says Ellie Gwilliam from the Parenting Place.

sad boy in profile

Photo: Luke Pennystan

It can certainly sting when you feel like you've missed out and children don't necessarily show how much, Gwilliam says.

"What's going on for my child? Sometimes it's obvious - there's some really big feelings on display. Other times it's sort of underneath the surface,"  she tells Kathryn Ryan.

"Lots of kids don't get prizes, but if we can flip that around a bit, so we take some time to validate their feelings and to just sit and listen, just hear what's going on for them, giving them that space to communicate and to feel empathy and feel like they've got our understanding … our kids come out the other side of that feeling so much better.

"They feel seen, they feel noticed, they feel appreciated. And that feeling can do a lot of repair if they have been feeling a little bit left out or feeling a bit overlooked in prize-giving season. It is really quite powerful for boosting them in that sense of connection and the family."

At a family dinner, you might all go around the table and say what you appreciate about each other. 

"Maybe you could dress up, maybe you could have a toast with some lemonade. We can make these seemingly insignificant moments really quite special for our kids."

You could make a speech at dinner about your child who just finished school or graduated, really acknowledging "the hard work, the perseverance, the 'good on you for trying' hard moments".

Pick something specific that you've noticed about your child - maybe it's that they tried really hard at spelling this year, been a really good friend to someone or included someone who perhaps was feeling left out.

"It's recognition that we see that it's not been easy for them, that there have been challenges, and being specific about the way that they tackled those challenges ... noticing specific things that our kids have done … that as parents we've seen them do."

In the lead-up to Christmas, after a hectic year, Gwilliam says parents need to be reminded to keep it simple.

"Allow ourselves a moment to press pause and catch our breath. Because it's been a hectic year and it's been a really hectic season. We've all been stretched across multiple commitments.

"There's a lot of pressure to do amazing, memorable, incredible things for our kids and Christmas and the holidays. But actually [there's great power in] short moments of focused attention for our kids. It doesn't have to be that you take them on this amazing trip and this exotic experience."

View the extra time together as a great opportunity to sit down with your kids and really get interested in what they're doing, Gwilliam says.

"For example, they come home with all their schoolbooks and artwork and all the stuff from the year and it sort of gets shoved in a pile and the mess and craziness of December … just sit down with the kids and ask them to tell you about their schoolwork, the artwork.

"Giving them that focused attention is super powerful and super helpful for connection at what is a really hectic time of year with a lot of pressure."