This article originally published on LinkedIn and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.
Our community hosts a citywide festival called Summerfest every July. There are parades, carnival rides, concerts, special events and so much more. As part of the festivities, they host an annual coloring contest aligned with the festival theme which this year was Heroes Unite.
Our 3-year-old loves to craft and has spent countless hours coloring. She often picks paper and writing instruments as her thing to bring out and about. It seemed fitting to print off a copy and let her do one of her favorite activities.
It was the night before the final extension deadline that I remembered to ask if she wanted to color it. Without hesitation, she excitedly exclaimed yes! She sat at her art desk. My only instructions were stick with crayons, use lots of colors and take your time. She colored and colored and colored minding to stay in the lines quite well. She would shout whenever she opted to color with blue. Momma, I add your favorite. It was one of those precious peaceful moments with a preschooler focused on the project at hand.
She held up her creation with a grin on her face and hollered for Daddy to come see too. It was clear how hard she had worked and how proud she was of it. We went about our business not thinking of it until my phone rang a couple days later to say she won her age group.
What followed in those moments after the call and again a few days later at the festival, I have decided to call coloring contest confidence. The innocence of a child allowed her to beam with a confidence that I wish she could hold onto for the rest of her life. It was an unapologetic pride in herself for an accomplishment. The experience caused me to be quite introspective about the differences between confidence and recognition with children and adults.
The mother in me wanted to know how to make this teaching moment last so that confidence would continue. The woman in me realized that I should learn some lessons from my 3-year-old about receiving recognition.
Understand the recognition
As soon as I ended the call with the chamber of commerce, I explained to her that she won. She exclaimed I won! She smiled and then you could see the wheels in her head were turning. After she processed her thoughts, she cocked her head to the side and said the three letter word parents of young kids know all too well – why. Her full question was why I won?
Without much thought, I quickly responded because they thought your picture was the prettiest. The smile that came across her face as she fully understood the recognition. Now, she got it! It took understanding the recognition to fully receive it.
This has many applications to workplace recognition. If you are receiving the recognition, don’t hesitate to ask why or what specifically made it noteworthy. This will help you understand the benefit of the accomplishment and increase the likelihood of repeating it.
More importantly for those giving recognition it underscores the importance of why the achievement mattered. By including the impact, it will create sincere recognition and will build the confidence of the recipient. There are countless articles about the significance of specific feedback and recognition is a form of feedback so be sure to be clear on why it was awesome.
Accept the recognition
We took full advantage of the opportunity to reinforce that working hard leads to rewards. We told her that we know she worked hard and were proud of her.
You couldn’t wipe the smile from her face as she called her grandparents to share the news. I am not sure how clear it was over speakerphone but she yelled I won.
Since she is only three, there hasn’t been time to add self-doubt. She didn’t debate whether she had truly colored the prettiest picture. She didn’t ponder how many entrants there were and if that was a factor on her winning. She didn’t consider whether turning it in last minute had been an advantage. She didn’t say but if I had colored more on the other side it could have been better.
This was eye-opening for me. Once she understood why she won, she accepted it. There was not a single question or additional consideration.
A great lesson for all us big kids to remember to accept recognition. If someone takes the time to appreciate you, say thank you and do not allow self-talk to minimize it.
Enjoy the recognition
The coloring contest winners were invited to an award ceremony which involved going on stage before one of the nightly concerts to be recognized and receive your prize. The prize was a wristband for the carnival rides.
She soaked in every aspect of being recognized. I went on stage with her and she smiled as they said her name. She even let us get a photo of her holding the coloring underneath the electronic billboard when it cycled through to her name.
We were holding hands as we walked to pick up her ride bracelet. Her little voice said hey momma and upon my answer, she then stopped and looked up at me to say I so proud of myself. I wanted to bottle that moment up so she could have it. It’s not that the coloring contest was so important but knowing she could feel pride in a job well done is something I do want for her.
She rode the cars, carousel and more. She selected flavors for her first snow cone. She had a blast staying up way past her bedtime celebrating.
As we left, I asked if she remembered what she said earlier. She didn’t. I probed that you told me you were so something. What was it? Her response this time was I am so happy!
While accepting and enjoying may seem similar they aren’t. She enjoyed every minute of using her prize. She didn’t feel guilt to share it. She wasn’t worried about hurrying the experience. She simply basked in the excitement of a winning wristband and soaked in all the glory that carnival rides offer.
Too often as adults, we don’t stop to enjoy the fruits of our labor. There is no sense of working hard to receive recognition if you are not going to enjoy it. I encourage all of us to find your inner child and celebrate the victory.
Coloring Contest Confidence
The coloring contest win ended up being so much more than a night of rides. It opened my eyes to the confidence I want to continue instilling in my child. It also was a rude awakening that I need to take some of that advice myself by giving more meaningful recognition to adults as well as learning how to appropriately receive it.
I plan to work on understanding, accepting and enjoying recognition moving forward now that I have seen it through the eyes of a 3-year-old. The world could use more coloring contest confidence.