By: Dawn Thompson
The other day my 11-and-a-half-year-old was upset because he only had 47 stamps and he needed 50 to attend a school Halloween Dance on Friday. The stamp program is part of an incentive to reward children based on their effort. The children have all month to earn and collect their stamps then cash them in at the end of each month. Homework is a BIG factor in determining how many stamps one may receive. In addition to schoolwork, teachers may allow students to earn stamps at their discretion, which is where it gets tricky.
Not all teachers are available to hand out the extra stamps the minute a child is ready to receive them. (The student must have their agenda book on them in order to collect them.) Sometimes coordinating all of this can be overwhelming, especially when there are time constraints. A way to avoid coming up short is for the kids to do all their work on time and to do plenty of it. If you have stamps to spare, it won’t be a problem if some roll in late or get lost. While this works well for children that are motivated, it doesn’t do much for those who struggle to just make the cut.
The reason Dylan was so upset is because he insisted he earned the 50 but could not collect the last 3 in time. He said he had agreed to pick up cardboard for a teacher in exchange for 3 stamps. Dylan did not have his agenda book on him at the time and could not collect the stamps. When he did get his book, the teacher was not available to give him the stamps. Unfortunately, that was the last day he could collect them to be included in the October dance.
School personnel had a hard time sympathizing with him because he had plenty of opportunity to earn MORE than enough but didn’t put the effort in. At first I thought it wasn’t “fair,” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this is going to be a problem for him the rest of his life if we don’t address it now with “tough love.”
I asked Dylan, “If I needed $5.00 worth of gas to get to the circus in Boston by 6:00 and I put $5.00 in the tank and left by 5:00 would I make it?” Of course, he said yes knowing Boston is only 45 minutes away. Then I asked him what about if there was traffic and what if the traffic was so much that I ran out of gas. I told him how I might not make it there at all. He was very surprised to learn that just enough is ONLY enough if things go PERFECTLY, which they hardly ever do. Although it was a tough lesson to learn, he realized that in order to achieve our goals, sometimes we need to allow room for error, time for traffic, to get more than enough gas, or to allow an extra day to collect stamps or earn more than he needed, just in case.
After he agreed to try harder next month, the assistant principal called to let us know that Dylan DID have enough stamps to go to the dance because there was three in the front of his book that he forgot to count. Even though it has been a stressful past few days for him, Dylan learned one of the most valuable lessons in life. Sometimes “just enough” might not be enough. Next time he will reach higher and aim better, realizing nothing in life is perfect. He always knew he doesn’t need a bulls-eye, but now he’s aware that he needs to hit somewhere on the target and not just on the edge :)