Life’s little things

Recognising our children’s achievements and encouraging their abilities

Our family spends a considerable amount of its free time doing what many families around the country do every day: ferrying children to and from after school activities.

Even minimal involvement in a favourite pastime when multiplied by three children results in a vast amount of time and commitment on the part of everyone in the family. Indeed it seemed to me that our youngest child spent an inordinate amount of her early life in the car ferrying her brothers to and from their various activities.

Why do we do this? We climb aboard the activities merry-go-round for our children’s sake but if we are honest there is a healthy dose of narcissism at work too. Perhaps we were no good at sports or no one ever came to see us in our school play and we are determined that our own children will not suffer similar fates.

If we are truthful, there is a huge payoff in basking in our children’s successes. There is recognition, notoriety and even envy and the mistaken belief that their talent and effort somehow reflects the marvellous job we must be doing parenting them.

That said, for the most part, parents are simply doing their best to expose their children to as much of what life has to offer in the hope that they may find their niche or their passion. We provide opportunities for development, for fun, for socialisation, for personal growth and, yes, for success.


Whether it’s success in academic, sporting, social or personal endeavours, as parents of vulnerable and impressionable youngsters we need to be mindful of how we determine exactly what we consider success to be. Swimming a length of the pool or swimming ten lengths? Winning a medal or simply taking part? What we want for our children can override what our children want for themselves and can suck the pleasure out of what should be enjoyable experiences.

We live in a competitive world and, like it or not, securing a college place or a sought-after job will be a reality for our children. We may teach them that they are unique, wonderful and very special individuals who can achieve whatever they put their minds to, but self-belief only takes us so far. I believe our children need opportunities to shine and to experience achievement.

My son once asked how I knew he was all the wonderful things I constantly told him he was; could I just be biased because I loved him so much? He knows he is a fine person with many admirable qualities, he also knows that he is cherished, valued and loved without question.

He is confident and happy, but he needed reassurance that he did in fact have what it would take to make it in the world. He was not to be fobbed off by reassurances that we would always be there to support him, that success is measured in many different ways or that he was too young to worry about what later life will bring. He needed evidence of his abilities, independent, incontrovertible proof.

So I produced a box filled with his medals, awards, exam results and certificates of achievement. He examined them all carefully, his school reports testifying to academic capabilities and honours grades in music exams receiving as much attention as his ‘best listener’ certificate awarded in Junior Infants.

These tangible recognitions of his personal journey thus far in life reminded him that he has all he needs within himself to succeed, and reassured him far more than any words of mine ever could.

Sometimes a little proof is all it takes.