Killing with Kid Gloves: Part 1

I recently had to defend our program to a parent who told me that programs like Gymfinity were causing harm to children rather than helping them prepare for life by stressing competition over esteem building. We were never going to get on the same page. We had to agree to disagree, I respectfully listened until she gave me my turn. I feel like I made my point however she did not come in and sign her child up. Now with the chance to collect my thoughts, allow me to reiterate and defend great programs, like Gymfinity and many others in our industry (of which, of course, Gymfinity is the best).

Many parents want their child’s self esteem built. As an educator (my degree is in education) I agree. I think that teachers/coaches should not deliberately set out to damage a child’s self esteem. But I do have a position probably contrary to many other teachers. (Actually most teachers agree with me but are enveloped in a system that has to proclaim the contrary). I think children have over-inflated self esteems (I am speaking ingeneralities, there are personal stories and children that this does not apply to). Self esteems that will cause them problems when reality hits them as they become adults; problems for them and problems for society. The current state of children in our culture is that over=protected to the extent that they will be dysfunctional in the global society of their future. What? Whoa! I’m just a gymnastics coach how can I be so bold as to say that we are doing it wrong?

  • Schools across the country are switching from red pens to make corrections on paper to purple because purple is not as “harsh” and red can hurt their feelings.
  • Many schools now prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. Too many hurt feelings. In California one principal sent a letter home to parents disallowing any “tag” games because, “In this game, there is a ‘victim’ or ‘It,’ which creates a self-esteem issue.”
  • Many Physical Education teachers have steered away from sports and games to activities that allow the child to compete with only themselves, like juggling. But not juggling balls that makes it too hard and can hurt the self esteem. They use scarves, slower, safer, less frustrating and far less challenging.

It seems that many adults today regard the children in their care as fragile porcelain eggs. They need to be protected from any risk of frustration or failure lest they crack. 

Shouldn’t our focus be on the correcting of mistakes and learning to conquer deficiencies rather than on how a child feels about the brutality of red ink?  As a child I remember playing games trying to avoid being “it.” If we call being “it” a victimization, then wouldn’t it be affirming to teach them to work hard to avoid being “it”. Yeah, that’s the game. I know my teachers always made sure that we all had a chance to be “it.” Pretty fair, I thought, and a great lesson to see the game from a different perspective. Isn’t that teaching a desirable quality? And Juggling, seriously. Juggling is hard. Dropping balls and chasing them (persistance), passing to a partners (team work) and practice (dedication) are lessons I want my sons to learn. There are a million ways to teach it. But if juggling is the tool, let the balls fall where they may, for my kids.

So is it really so bad to seek to protect our youngsters from disappointment? Yes. I feel in life that sooner or later our kids will  face stressful situations and disappointments. That is life, right?  She asked me “why not shield them from the inevitable as long as possible?”  Because kids need challenge, excitement and often the disappointment they bring. In conversations with other business owners, we all speak about the entitlement attitudes of young adults nowadays. Yet we still want to protect them from the reality of being fired or reprimanded for failing to meet expectations. We can’t have it both ways. We need to train children at a young age that they are responsible, they need to respect themselves and others.  Sometimes being responsible means taking one for the team, sometimes being respectful means that your opinion, at that moment, doesn’t get voiced. Not to get political but shouting at the President of the United States and calling him a liar during an adress is disrespectful.  I showed my son the news reports and explained to him that even if you don’t agree with some people like the rude guy didn’t, you MUST respect them. There are proper ways to show dissent. But this knucklehead senator felt he should be allowed to behave this way. It was his opinion and he was entitled. Well sir, there are better ways, more respectable ways, to voice it and at the proper time. That’s the lesson my child learned from Joe Wilson. (There is educational opportunity in everything).

Two decades of research have failed to show a significant connection between high self-esteem and achievement, kindness, or good personal relationships. Unmerited self-esteem, on the other hand, is known to be associated with antisocial behavior — even criminality. Nevertheless, most of our national institutions and organizations that deal with children remain fixated on self-esteem.*

Too many educators, parents and camp counselors today are obsessed with boosting the self-esteem of the children in their care. These adults not only refrain from criticizing their young charges when they perform badly, they also take pains to praise them even when they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

Well mam, is Gymfinity good for kids?  Unquestionably yes. We train children to respect themselves and to realize their own potential. We teach them that with hard work and dedication almost anything can be achieved. But without their participation in the effort than surely nothing will be accomplished and disappointment is imminent. We strive to help kids grow and learn. Trail and error, direct instruction, discovery, compromise and contemplation of their own abilities are demonstrated in every class. “Can you do it? I think you can. Try again, go for it.”  Sometimes kids need to hear what they are doing wrong in order to reinforce doing something right. “Your foot is not pointed, if you point it the turn will be easier”. It’s called learning.  Our staff goes through a lot of training to avoid praise when praise is not due. To offer it for good and bad performance devalues the praise and then the child hears “Whah whah whah “like Charile Brown’s teacher instead of any genuine praise when it’s warranted.

I will never forget what my mom told me when I said I wanted to open a gym. “J” she said “it’s going to be tough, you’ll have a hard time and sometimes you’ll feel like crying. It’s OK to go and cry, but when you’re done, you will need to get back to work. It’s got to be about the work, not the crying. You’ll tough it out if you really want it.”   She raised my bar. My Mom had a gift, her verbal red ink always made me reach higher. And she was right, I have cried a few times. You bet. Then, each time,  I got back to work.

* from article by Christina Hoff Sommers


  1. Jim Mraz on September 16, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Exactly. This is why I like your Gym. My greatest achievements in life have always followed rough times, bad timing, failures, injuries, etc….! But I always had someone there saying keep trying, don’t give up, and This Too shall pass. When I’ve fought the battles of life the victory over them is always sweeter. Now as a business owner in these tough economic times I have felt the same way you have, but I know there are lessons to be learned, problems to be solved, people to take care of and at the end of the day I am a better person because I didn’t give up. When this chapter of my life has passed I will look back with pride and move on to the next chapter knowing that it can be conquered. What a great gift to leave our children.

  2. Dan & Sherry Zurawik on September 16, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Just want to tell you this article was great. You really got us both with the “red pen” issue – we had heard about this philosophy teachers were using a few years back and just had to laugh. Bottom line – if the answer is wrong, the answer is wrong. Both my husband and I agree with you – self esteem is very important, but you are not going to get it the way parents are praising their children today for things that don’t deserve praise. You have just reassured us that our daughter is participating in gymnastics at the right facility. Obviously, the way we were raised and our views of life are on the same page. You just don’t hear that anymore. Thanks!

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