Kids and Gold Stars

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We need to let our kids EARN their Gold Stars | Serving Joyfully

Use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because Gold stars should be EARNED, not stolen!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gold stars. These days, our society seems to have the notion that everyone deserves a gold star just for showing up. I thought I’d share a few of the reasons that I think this is a damaging attitude to have.

We are selling our kids short

Our kids have amazing potential. ALL of them! I am constantly amazed by the stories of people who have achieved far beyond what anyone expected.

When we give our kids a gold star for participation, we’re telling them that they’ll never be able to earn a real one.

We’re writing them off instead of believing in them and encouraging them to work hard and earn that gold star.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Helen Keller and have been reading about her again lately as I prepare to introduce her to my boys. She was deaf and blind. She had plenty of valid reasons and excuses in her life. But instead, an amazing woman named Anne Sullivan believed in her. Rather than giving her a gold star for participation, she believed in her enough to make her earn it. And she did. Helen Keller went on to do remarkable things with her life.

We encourage an attitude of entitlement

When we give everyone the same prize, regardless of achievement, we’re creating a sense of entitlement. We’re telling our children that they somehow deserve the prize without the work involved to get it. We negate that hard work as meaningless when we reward them for every trivial thing they do.

We set our children up to expect a celebration when they do anything and everything, and the worst part of that is that it creeps into adult behavior as well. We want to be praised and lauded for doing the absolute minimum in life. At some point, we all need to learn to do the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing. Period.

We rob them of the fulfillment of earning something

One of the proudest moments in my life was when I walked across the stage and received my Masters Degree. I overcame a lot to get that degree. I worked hard. It was in the midst of the worst bout of depression I have suffered to date, and I doubted many times that I would ever really get there. But I did. And that was a supremely rewarding, fulfilling experience for me.

That feeling–that amazing, exuberating feeling of accomplishment–can’t be faked. There is no easy way. You can’t get it without hard work, determination, setbacks and triumphs along the way.  We can give our kids a gold star, but we can’t replicate the feeling that comes from earning it.

And by giving our kids rewards for simply showing up, we rob them of that feeling that comes from actually earning something. We set them up for a lifetime of avoiding the hard stuff because they are so used to getting that gold star for nothing.

We make accomplishments meaningless

An award is kind of like money–the more there is, the less it’s worth. The trophy goes to the winner. It has value because it was earned and because it’s an elite position. When everyone gets a trophy, it’s undervalued for those who really did earn it and deserve it.

I understand wanting to make kids feel important and valued, and I certainly think that a child trying his absolute best and making progress through obstacles should be encouraged. But wouldn’t it be better to help him earn a real award rather than giving them a fake one for nothing?

Yes, it’s more work, but it’s worth it. It is so worth it to empower our children to reap the benefits of their own hard work.


  1. Gabby says

    Absolutely! They end up growing up lacking the character needed to really face the hard stuff of life. I don’t want to rob my kids of that.

  2. says

    I am so glad I am 70 years old–not because I have reached that age, but because I grew up in a time when you had to earn your way. You had to earn grades, you had "chores" to do at home, you had to earn any trophies you got (you actually won them–novel idea!) I played first chair flute, but I practiced at least an hour (usually two) a day.

    I earned what I got and, as a retired teacher, I am worried about the future of the U. S. Not because kids nowadays aren't smart. They are. I am worried because they lack a sense of responsibility. Their parents try to get them out of any scrapes they get into. Their parents write excuses when homework isn't done. They feel "bullied" if they are criticized at all.

    I am so glad I am 70!

  3. says

    I so agree, Crystal! I still remember as a child being told we needed to practice hard to learn a song and the winner would get a prize. My cousin and I practiced, and practiced, and practiced. When we showed up the next day, they announced, “Everyone gets a prize. Yay!” It made the practice seem pointless.

    Though it’s not a big deal, it makes me thing twice before rewarding my kids. I want to encourage them to work hard and pursue their dreams, not just sit back and expect to be rewarded anyway.

    • Crystal Brothers says

      Love that Anna! Your example illustrates both aspects of it–that it hurts kids on both sides of it. Thanks so much for sharing

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