Behaviour & Emotions

High-fives all round: 7 ways to celebrate your kids

Celebrating our kids

The end of the school year brings with it prizegiving season. This means some kids will get publicly recognised for their achievements, talent and efforts. It also means that lots of kids won’t. We’re all about celebrating achievement and congratulating kids on their success, but we also want to acknowledge that while this is a wonderful moment for the kids receiving awards, it can be a really tough moment for those who aren’t. So how do we help our kids navigate the big feelings around winning prizes and not winning prizes?

While this is a wonderful moment for the kids receiving awards, it can be a really tough moment for those who aren’t.

For starters, we can acknowledge those feelings of disappointment, sadness, even jealousy, and coach our kids through them. We can gently help our kids understand that not everyone gets a trophy – that’s what makes trophies so special. We can offer hope – “It’s awesome to see Johnny get a certificate for all his hard work this year. Next year it might be your turn to get one.” We can encourage our kids to celebrate the success of their friends and siblings, and practise offering “Congratulations - you did so well” to others. All good things to do! (Not necessarily easy things to do, let’s be honest, but good nonetheless!)

The other thing we can do for our kids is ensure they feel seen and recognised for the wonderful humans that they are. This might not be their year for a trophy, but we can absolutely still honour their efforts. Here are seven simple ways to show your kids how awesome they are, and wrap up the year on a celebratory note.

1. Sneak something special into their lunchbox

Pack a little treat in your child’s lunchbox, and/or a note that acknowledges something wonderful you’ve noticed about them recently. This small gesture says “I see you” to a child and delivers huge feel-good vibes. It’s quite lovely to know someone is thinking of you. This one even works for teenagers – you could change it up with some coins for them to spend at the school canteen, and maybe a text message instead of a note. Nah... we’re never too old for a handwritten note illustrated with stick figures!

2. Serve up dinner on The Red Plate

The Red Plate is a Parenting Place initiative – it’s a special plate awarded to a member of the family who has done something worth celebrating. It could be awarded for trying something for the first time, an act of generosity, bravery or kindness, finishing a project or getting to the end of exams. The Red Plate helps siblings learn to honour and celebrate each other too – you only have one red plate in the cupboard, which means only one person receives the honour at a time.

3. Stickers that say so much

Here's another shameless plug for a Parenting Place product – this one is our affirmation stickers. These stickers are especially lovely for our little ones and a great way to let our tamariki know we love them and we’re proud of them. Surprise your child with a sticker on their T-shirt as they head off to kindy or school. Stick one on their hand when they get home, on their latest artwork, or go for the tried-and-true sticker chart on the fridge.

4. Mark the last day of school with a special dinner

Acknowledge the end of another big year with dinner out, special takeaways or your child’s favourite home-cooked meal to recognise their efforts and achievements. This could become an annual family tradition, and something that’s meaningful to young children and teenagers alike.

A note says “I see you, I’ve been thinking of you, I think you’re awesome.”

5. Leave them a note on their pillow

This one’s a classic, and every time I do it I’m surprised at how much it means to my kids – now teenagers! (You know it’s a meaningful gesture when the recipient shows off to their siblings – “I got a note on my pillow and you didn’t.” Nice one girls.) Basically this is just a little love note, but it speaks volumes – especially if you convey specific messaging around something you’re especially proud of or grateful for in your child. But generally, a note says “I see you, I’ve been thinking of you, I think you’re awesome.” Job done!

6. Take an interest in the school work they bring home right about now

What does one do with all the used exercise books and piles of artwork that come home from school at the end of term 4? Short answer, I don’t exactly know. I have an old suitcase jammed full of the stuff. It conveniently hit capacity at the same time most of our girls’ learning and project work has gone digital. How you store all your kids’ school work, and how long for – those are questions for another day. The point here is to harness this moment for its full celebration value. Sit down with your child and ask them to show you their work. Ask them what their favourite projects and artworks were this year. Ask them to show you something they're proud of in their exercise books, or a favourite comment from their teacher. Get them to teach you something from all the fascinating things they’ve learnt. (One year, our girls’ primary school dedicated a whole term to a ‘worm enquiry’. I learnt a lot.)

7. Make a speech

Little kids love this one, older kids pretend they don’t love it but deep down they actually really do. Clink a glass, clear your throat and go all-out toastmasters as dinner wraps up, or maybe as an intro to dessert. Acknowledge the hard work, perseverance, successes and even the not-so-successful-but-good-on-you-for-trying moments of your child’s year. Be specific in your recognition, showing your child that you’ve noticed what they’ve pushed through and where they've tried their best. They might be pleasantly surprised by the type of things you're proud of and have been impressed by. A speech in someone’s honour is, funnily enough, really honouring. The celebratory potential here is huge too – invite the wider whānau over, dress up formal, pop confetti, let off some fireworks... the sky's the limit.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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