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Why Kids Need An Emotional Roller Coaster

11/12/2015 2:22 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Visitors ride the Hair Raiser roller coaster at Ocean Park, operated by Ocean Park Corp., in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Hong Kong is scheduled to release second-quarter gross domestic product figures on Aug. 14. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

You should have seen his little face light up. You should have seen it. You could have powered a city with that grin. Give him a lollipop the size of a lamp post and he couldn't have been happier.

This week was school awards day. They put it on at 2 pm so that all the parents with proper day jobs had no chance of making it. I'm a journalist, so obviously I was free to attend.

It was hot in that school hall, my friends. Actually, no it wasn't. It was air-conditioned and not in the least evocative of the sweaty, fly-riddled school halls of your childhood. In fact the whole event was a cool, calm, predictable affair. The principal spoke about principles. The P&C president was very PC.

Even the kids were restrained when they received their awards. That's because they knew in advance they were getting them. Somewhere along the line, the school forgot that awards ceremonies are about suspense. Without it, such events are an emotional pancake.

But one teacher bucked the trend. I'll call him Mr Z. He's my son's Year 3 teacher and he's a bit of a rebel. Mr Z decided he'd withhold the information. He wouldn't tell the kids in advance who'd won. He just let 'em sweat it out.

My son had been a little mopey all week. My daughter had been told she was winning an English prize in her class, but there'd been no tap on the shoulder for my son. This upset him, not because he craves affirmation, but because deep down he knows he's got his classmates' number at maths.

Cut to the ceremony. My daughter duly wins the Year 6 English Award. She gets a $25 book voucher, which will cover approximately one percent of the cost of the books which enabled her to reach the level required to win the award. I understand the Australian economy increasingly works in this manner.

The classes count down. At last it's Year 3 and the rebellious Mr Z. And the maths prize goes to...

Wait a minute. Stop the column. I want to make it clear at this point that I don't care if my kids win awards. This isn't about that. Also, you should know that their smart genes are not mine. Much like my wallet, they are entirely my wife's.

Back on stage, my son is announced as the winner of the maths award. He rises from his seat with genuine shock. He accepts his certificate with a look of incredulity and sheer joy on his face like it's raining M&Ms. You can't buy a look like that.

We don't give kids enough of a chance to experience real emotions these days. God forbid anyone should be disappointed once in a while. The same son played junior AFL for three seasons. It drove him mad that they never kept score. He didn't care if they lost. He and his mates just wanted the real game experience.

He changed to indoor soccer. Last year his team made the grand final, which they narrowly lost 13-1. Didn't kill him. As the saying goes, it made him stronger.

His team went up a division this year. Bad decision. They were fodder. Each week, teams racked up 15 or 16 goals against them. The competition had just one other team at the lowly level of my son's team. With two weeks to go, the big showdown was on. Last versus second last.

My son's team scored early. 1-0. The other team hit back. 1-1 at halftime. They scored again. We were down 1-2. We struck back with a header. Incredible. No one ever scores with a header at junior indoor soccer. 2-2. And then the winner, a crisp left foot shot through a forest of legs. 3-2. You should have seen the kids celebrate. It was better than a grand final win.

I worry sometimes about the trend in education and parenting to neuter the emotions of an entire generation. I'm no psychologist, but in an age of mollycoddling, I think it helps kids to feel challenging, difficult emotions from time to time.

Vary things up a little. Give them an emotional roller coaster to ride. Not a big one but a kid-sized one. It might just prepare them for a phase of life called adulthood.

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