Last week I took my children out for a birthday lunch at Jamie’s Italian. Have you been before? Great food, atmosphere and service.
Jamie Oliver has made a name for himself not only as the naked chef, but as an advocate of real food eating. Children at his restaurants are given a ‘shake me salad’ and encouraged to eat it. If they empty the jar, they’re given a badge that says ‘I ate my greens at Jamie’s Italian’. Oh the not so subtle powers of bribery!
My two eldest children liked most of the things in their salad jar, with the exception of lettuce. But for the purpose of getting the badge, they ate it.
My youngest on the other hand is not a salad fan. With the exception of avocado, she is repelled by raw vegetables (and some cooked ones for that matter). Eating the salad was clearly not a choice she was going to make.
When she realised that she would not be getting a badge like her siblings, she became disappointed. I firstly acknowledged how she was feeling, that she didn’t want to miss out on the gift. I explained that badges are ony given to children who eat all of the salad and that meant she wouldn’t be getting one this time around. After our chat and a cuddle, she made peace with this.
However, when the badges were being given out, our waitress changed the rules.
Her: “You don’t have to eat the whole salad, just one thing in the jar”.
Me: “Thanks but she doesn’t want to eat any today, and accepts that you have to eat it all to earn the badge. Her birthday is in a few weeks so I’ll look for a birthday card with a badge on it this year instead”.
Her: “Is it your birthday next month? OK, you can have the badge as my birthday present to you!”
Meanwhile, my other two children were left wondering why they bothered to eat the lettuce. Perhaps they could have managed to get the badge without going to these great lengths?
My reminder here is that in childhood, there are an abundance of lessons to be learned about life: winning and losing, natural consequences, fairness, consistency and making choices.
My daughter was content in her decision not to get the badge. Not to do the necessary work to get the desired result.
Her siblings in contrast, were prepared to do the work in order to get the reward.
And yet, they all ended up with the same result. Why?
Because we’re raising children with the mindset of ‘everyone’s a winner’. Because we insist on wrapping children in cotton wool. Because we don’t want a temporary disappointment to ruin their mood. Because we want to be fair on the surface, yet we’re sacrificing the true meaning of the word along the way.
We’re forgetting that life lessons are there to be experienced. That always succeeding in life despite the amount of effort we put in, is not a sustainable trend. That rules and procedures do not bend for an individual. That the choices you make add up to create the life you live.
Childhood is the training arena. Day by day situations will naturally unfold that develop our children’s ability to handle disappointments, to make increasingly empowered choices, and to understand the way that the world works.
These situations don’t need to be orchestrated. But nor do they need to be removed from childhood.
Where have you seen ‘everyone’s a winner’ play out in your own life with children?