Mom's post about her chronically ill child is just one reason 'attendance awards' need to go

As a student, I always thought perfect attendance awards were dumb. Then I became a teacher, and I still thought they were silly. Then I became a parent and the full scope of how ridiculous they are became crystal clear.

Apparently, I'm not alone. A mom's post calling out perfect attendance awards for how they impact her chronically ill daughter has gone viral, with thousands of people agreeing with her.

Twitter user Kat (@chronicparent30) wrote, "All the kids with 100% attendance at my daughter's school get an Easter egg this week. The rest don't. I despise attendance awards. Anyway today I'm going to go buy my daughter, who'll never get 100% attendance due to chronic illness, a huge Easter egg."


Her post received more than 545,000 likes and 43,000 retweets.

Perfect attendance awards are presumably supposed to encourage good habits in kids. But there are two main reasons they need to go.

The first, as this mother points out without saying it directly, is that they are unfair. Children have very little control over when and how they get to school, so who is really being rewarded or punished for attendance? Parents? But the kids who get the reward are the ones who are able to get to school every day on time because they are privileged in some way—they never get really sick, they don't have any ongoing health issues, they don't have any tragedies that occur during the year, and they don't have a parent with a disability/mental illness/work schedule/etc. that might occasionally impede a kid getting to school.

Not everything in life is fair, of course, nor does everything have to be. But if we're rewarding kids for something that's largely out of their control and for something that requires a certain level of privilege to attain, that's not the kind of unfair that should be accepted and perpetuated. We're literally teaching kids that privilege should be celebrated. Gross.

The second reason perfect attendance awards should be eliminated is because, rather than encouraging good habits, they actually encourage unhealthy ones.

Kids should absolutely not go to school sick, and they certainly shouldn't be incentivized to do so. That was always true, but it's especially important now that we've experienced a global pandemic. If you're sick, you should stay home. Period.

There's also real value in taking days off sometimes, even if you're not physically ill. I've written before about how grateful I was to my dad for letting me take a mental health day when I was in high school. I was an honors student, very involved in school activities, and I broke down in tears one day on the way to school. I told him I needed a break, and he immediately turned the car around and headed home. It was the kindest thing he could have done, and it also taught me a valuable lesson about taking a break when you need one. Giving awards for perfect attendance discourages mental health care that some kids desperately need.

As a former teacher, I understand that it's easier when kids always come to class. It's extra work to help get a kid caught up on what they've missed. But I would much rather one of my students miss my class because they're sick, overly stressed, visiting grandma on her deathbed, going to a doctor's or dentist's or therapist's appointment—or heck, even going on a family vacation during the off-peak season because it's what their family can afford—than to feel like they absolutely should never miss a day of school.

School is important, absolutely. But so is health. So is family life. And perfect attendance awards send the absolute wrong message that it's somehow desirable and praiseworthy to never take a day off, even when you have good reason to. That's a toxic message that none of us should embrace for our kids or for ourselves.

We have enough overworked, overstressed adults who don't know how to care for their physical and mental health. We don't need to instill into kids the message that taking the time you need, for whatever reason, is some sort of moral failure or that ignoring your needs is the right thing to do. Kids and parents know that kids need to be in class the vast majority of the time, and the kids who get perfect attendance awards aren't the ones with attendance problems to begin with.

It's time to just drop the whole idea once and for all.


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