Yes, I celebrate my kids’ tiny accomplishments—with balloons and cake

The kids passed swim lessons? We're having ice cream for dinner! You tried out for the soccer team? There's a big balloon coming your way. In our house, the smallest accomplishments are worth celebrating.

A picture of a cake with the letter R on it
A cake that the author ordered to celebrate her daughter finally being able to pronounce her “R” sound. Photo: Leslie Kennedy

I celebrate everything, especially the small things.

I ordered a cake that looked like a piece of paper with the letter “R” written on a line when my daughter had her last speech therapy session. After months of work to correct her speech, we were all so proud that she had mastered saying the sound—something she had really struggled with. No longer would “room” sound like “womb.” She worked hard. She succeeded. So we celebrated—with cake!

In my house, it’s not the tournaments my kids play in (or win!) or even my kid making the team that I make a big deal of; it’s being brave enough just to try out that I celebrate. It’s overcoming the fear of public speaking and getting up in front of a classroom filled with six-year-old classmates that I’ll honour with a fun dessert or a balloon from the dollar store.

I love when my kids pass a level of swimming lessons because that means they are one step closer to being safe in the water. They love it because it means ice cream for dinner. That’s right: My kids have a meal of DQ Blizzards every time they pass a swim level.  A family smiling and holding up their hands12 little ways to make your kid's day

In our home, nobody gets an allowance for making the bed or setting the table. The kids live in this house; I’m not going to reward them for doing their part to keep it clean. That’s why I don’t believe in participation trophies just for showing up at practice every week. If that’s enough to get a trophy, where’s mine for dropping my seven-year-old off to practice each week?

It seems that we’ve moved so far away from acknowledging actual accomplishments that kids just expect to be celebrated for doing what’s expected of them. We tend to overlook the real things that are worth celebrating—you know, things that kids have to work at, that scare them and push them to be better and that actually challenge them.

So I will throw a parade over the so-called “small” things. Celebrating small accomplishments is what brings out the 10 percent Pinterest mom that exists within me. That mom rarely comes out, but when she does, it’s to show my kids that I understand that sometimes the small things can be the hardest things to overcome.

Two kids smiling at the camera while holding ice cream cones
An ice cream celebration after getting new taekwondo belts. Photo: Leslie Kennedy

Small accomplishments in childhood are building blocks to bigger things—incremental steps towards making and achieving greater goals. Each new belt at taekwondo is more than just a new belt; it’s patterns learned, kicks mastered and confidence built. Learning to ride a bike is careening forward, even when you’re scared, and accepting a whole new level of freedom. Giant successes in childhood are made up of mini-accomplishments achieved along the way.

Now I won’t lie and say my son didn’t covet the participation medal he got for completing his soccer season—he wore it around the house for weeks! Maybe there is something to be said for celebrating effort, too. As a parent, though, I’d rather he didn’t have a false sense of pride in an accomplishment that was the result of minimal effort on his part—sorry, kid. I’d much rather honour overcoming challenges and instilling a sense of pride in actual accomplishment. Most people don’t master new skills without trying, and I’d rather reinforce the idea that actual hard work pays off.

This afternoon, the kids and I are going to bake a cake together after they’ve done their daily half hour of cleaning up—but only if I don’t have to micromanage the process. They’re getting better at figuring out what needs to be done without me telling them. So we’re gonna make that cake and eat it, too, because when I don’t have to oversee a quality cleanup, it’s worth celebrating for all of us.

Read more:
Why we should still celebrate kindergarten graduation
Are rep sports ruining childhood? 

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