Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weekly Whine: Consolation Prize

Last week, I went to a little indoor winter carnival with my daughter. In addition to food and decorations, there were a couple of little kiddie games that she could play.

One of those games was a ring toss that was $1 for 5 throws. A bunch of glass bottles were set up and if you were able to throw a ring over a green bottle (about 25% of the bottles were green), you won a crappy snake prize. There was also a white bottle and if you threw a ring over the white bottle, you won this gigantic monkey that was definitely worse than no prize at all.

Now let me say: this game was HARD. While we were standing in line, of the five kids in front of us, none of them won a prize. Finally a grown man tried to win one for his kid, and got it on the last of five throws. As a result, with less than an hour left of the carnival and most of the kids gone, there were like a hundred stuffed snakes still lying on the table.

Finally, it was my daughter's turn. She of course has no ability to aim, so she missed. (She missed the table entirely most of the time.) After she threw her last ring and it missed, the woman running the game said, "Okay, next." And my daughter just looked shocked. Where was her prize? Every other game she'd ever played in her whole life had provided a consolation prize.

Because her little face was crumpling, I paid another dollar and tried to win one for her. I hit a bottle, but it wasn't green, so still no prize. My daughter was devastated.

Perhaps you could say that this was a lesson in learning that you don't always get a prize, but honestly, I think it's unfair to do that to a small child who came to the carnival to have a good time. She would have been happy with anything, even a crappy plastic ring. And it's especially unfair since the game was so damn hard that all the prizes were still left over at the end of the night.

So my point is:

1) If you make a game for preschoolers, there needs to be a consolation prize.

2) What the hell were they going to do with 100+ stuffed snakes at the end of the night?


  1. They'll take the same 100 snakes to the next location, as they've probably been doing since 1985? Toy snakes can be pretty densely packed.

  2. Yeah, but this was just a school carnival to raise funds. There was no new location.

  3. Aw, poor Melly! I kind of agree that for small kids, would it really be so bad to give out a $0.20 prize just for playing? I mean, they have their whole lives to learn that life isn't fair.

  4. Those are pry the same snakes from the 1980's. They don't give them away so they don't ever have to buy anything new.

  5. Not fair or fun for preschoolers.
    Good point in when do kids learn that life is not always fair and you do not always win or get the snake. To young now, but sometime soon they need to know win/lose and right/wrong.

  6. I have to respectfully disagree. Preschool isn't too early to learn how to deal with disappointment. How you react makes a huge difference in how she handles it. A simple, "good try, that was a hard game..." should do it. We try too hard to keep our kids happy, and then they have no idea how to cope with bigger issues as they get older.

    With all of that said, I'd agree that it sounds like a crappy game.

  7. Thank you Dreaming Tree. The reality is that kids can understand winning and losing at this age. Consolation prizes and participation trophies have created a generation (of which I am a part) that are not good winners or losers. I hear my peers repeatedly saying, "That class/professor/job review was so unfair! I tried so hard! What more do they want?" Well the hard truth for us to swallow is that they want results. Effort is not good enough; it is necessary, but not sufficient for success. Teaching kids early on how to be gracious losers and gracious winners (not an easy thing to do) will help them be better prepared to be successful adults.

    Also, that game is terrible! I'm surprised you saw anyone win.

  8. I'm not sure I want to know the answer to the second question....but I do hate those carnival toys. I remember winning a stuffed giraffe once that had a razor blade inside it.

  9. Cazz: A razor blade??

    I think a consolation prize is a good transition for small kids. They learn to be gracious about losing the bigger prize, and that they can settle for something smaller. I think leaving them with absolutely nothing to show for their efforts is kind of cruel and maybe leaves them with the message: Don't bother trying.

    1. My mother used to say: "Home should be a safe place to fall."
      Children will learn soon enough how unfair the world is. As for the
      prize, it's not what it is but what it represents: a token of a shared
      experience between mother and daughter.

  10. Kids learn to manipulate very early. Consolation prizes just show the kids how little they have to do to get something; message:good enough don't bother working harder.

  11. Unknown is correct. Kids (even preschoolers) aren't as fragile as you would think. Learning to deal with disappointment/frustration is extremely important. I read a good article awhile back about the generation of young adults who are now in therapy because the real world isn't as happy & stress free as their parents raised them to believe. Trust me (as a mental health professional) , no consolation prize needed.

  12. I don't have a problem with the lack of consolation prizes, but I do have a problem with these almost unwinnable games. Obviously it is not the intent of this game to teach kids about failure. The only lesson to be learned here is don't play carnival games except those race games where there is always one winner. I personally hated those consolation prizes especially "Participant" ribbons. They may as well have said "loser" on those.