I remember my primary headmaster giving us all a pep-talk before a school sports day. "It's not the winning; it's the taking part." I wasn't quite sure what he was on about to be honest and it didn't make me feel any better when he said it again after I'd suffered a crushing defeat in the sack race. Fast forward about three decades and here I am saying those exact same words to my son.
To cut a very long and bizarre story short, he inadvertently ended up in a hip hop dance competition. We thought it was a simple show for mums and dads; turns out to be a proper competition with a clipboard-wielding judge. Gulp.
Resisting the urge to scarper down the fire exit, Daddy struggled to tolerate a nasty hangover and I struggled to contain a tired toddler while the Bigger Boy amazed us all by busting his moves on the dance floor. It was daunting circumstances by anyone's standards (rows and rows of audience, spotlights - did I mention the judge with a clipboard?) and yet he ended up in the final. 'Hurray', we cheered.
He was totally unfazed by the whole thing, until the prizes started to be announced. As the awards for 'under 10's tango' and the 'under 5's cha cha' (goggles in disbelief) were given out, my son's eyes lit up at the sight of the shiny trophies being given to the winners.
Then it was his category and he was given a medal for 6th place - brilliant, 'whoop whoop' we cried from our seats. And then............the overall winner was handed......a shiny trophy.
His face crumbled and his lip started to quiver. As he walked back to us, the tears started to flow and no matter how much praise and comfort we offered, all he could say was 'But (sob) I (sob) wanted (sob) a (sob sob) trophy.'
The parenting books don't tell you about all this, do they? They don't come with a 5 point plan for easing the pain of disappointment. So, just how do you manage this as a parent? How do you help your children to overcome heart-breaking disappointment? And how do you shake off those images in your head of your little boy, sad and alone in front of a big crowd, and resist the urge to smother him with hugs and run off to eat jelly and forget it ever happened?
The happy ending to our little story is that despite everything, he went to bed that night clutching his medal and continued to hold it for most of the next day. Maybe my 'It's not the winning' pep talk did sink in after all.
I really hope so, because I don't think I am made of strong enough stuff to go through that again.