Photo by Lucélia Ribeiro / Flickr

Let’s cut to the chase here — not every child has the ability to attend school every day. There are everyday, out-of-our-hands occurrences that can prevent this from happening. So, why are schools still giving out perfect attendance awards? 

I’m not bashing any child who can go to school every day — meaning they don’t have obstacles in their lives that would prevent them from going to school, such as an illness, family challenges and so forth. But, I do question how far we push kids. 

After all, children average six to 10 colds per year, so why would you send a sick child to school? What about COVID-19? I personally would not send my child to school knowing they were COVID-19-positive. 

There are also mental health considerations, especially as a result of the pandemic. The CDC reported one in five children had a mental disorder, but only about 20% of those children received care from a mental health provider. Imagine the severity of a child’s health if they are pressured to also have perfect attendance at school. 

Here’s another reality: Working more does not equate to working smarter. 

It’s what we’ve learned in our professional lives, and it’s why more and more companies have implemented benefits such as work-life balance programs, personal coaches and unlimited paid time off. Unfortunately, those opportunities haven’t translated to our children, who are told by schools that going to school every day means getting an award.

Scientific research also proves that perfect attendance awards aren’t effective. 

In a controlled study conducted by Harvard researchers, perfect attendance awards actually backfired. The researchers studied more than 15,000 students and found: Students who received a perfect attendance award “thought that they were attending school more than their classmates — and that they were attending school more than their school expected them to. So, receiving the award seems to have left them feeling licensed to miss more school days going forward.” 

Academically low-performing students “missed one-third more days on average” than their high-performing peers. 

The researchers suggested more communication with parents might help improve attendance rather than perfect attendance awards. 

Along with communication, let’s teach our children they don’t need to be superhumans to be perfect. Instead, let’s praise the kids who tell us when they need to take a break, who overcame a major life hurdle to make it to school, or who helped their peers. Self-advocacy, perseverance and compassion are all important traits. 

Let’s get rid of the perfect attendance awards and offer praise where it really matters and where it really helps with development. 

San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have a story idea? Email [email protected] and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.



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Ellen Bullock