Q. You recently warned parents against giving money for good grades and suggested a few other ways to provide encouragement.
I'd like to tell you what my parents did to show their pride in us, from kindergarten to graduate school.
On the last day of each semester, they took the whole family out to eat at a very special restaurant, where we--the children, the students--were collectively the guests of honor. As the dinner grew to a close, my parents would give each of us a wrapped present: our "end-of-semester book." On the blank front page, my parents always wrote a beautiful letter, praising us for every accomplishment of the semester, no matter how small.
Our grades were often commended, but just as often they noted our good attendance; our participation in musical activities or sports; our campaigns for student government offices (whether or not they succeeded); our involvement in special school projects; our good efforts in general--even our happy dispositions.
The books themselves were fine, hardcover editions, carefully chosen to reflect our interests. For instance, the semester that my fourth-grade class studied about Japan, my parents wrote of this special unit on the front page of a large, illustrated book of Japanese fairy tales.
This celebration was a special family tradition for several reasons:
We were being honored collectively at the dinner, but also very personally in the books we were given. My parents always found many different reasons for being proud of us, reflecting different aspects for school life. All of the reasons were valid and important, and I think we valued the differences in our special letters more than the similarities. We had each completed a unique semester and it was fun to read about what made each of our semesters special.
In this way we could be proud of ourselves and proud of each other, without any feelings of competition.
The books formed the beginnings of our permanent libraries; I have a shelf filled with my "end-of-semester books" in my own home now, with inscriptions that give an enduring record of my parents' pride.
A. Every parent who reads your letter will surely want to take up your family tradition--or will ache that it's too late.
Your mother and dad were so wise to congratulate your efforts as much as your scores; to encourage the pursuit of your interests, rather than theirs; to let you know that your accomplishments were a reflection of your own ability and not something they did for you. It's hard for parents to let their children pay for their own mistakes, but it can be much harder to let their children take the credit for their achievements. Your parents were mighty generous people.
And so are you. Thank you for sharing this custom with us. It is the kind of bonding that would enrich every family.
Questions may be sent to Parents' Almanac, Style Plus, The Washington Post. Worth Noting
Community Teaching Homes--a project of the nonprofit School for Contemporary Education--needs more foster parents for its residential program for emotionally disturbed children with learning problems. The CTH staff trains foster parents to help children return to their homes and provides round-the-clock support services and financial aid. Call 370-2770.