The Real Winner of the 4th Grade Spelling Bee

November 15, 2021

My youngest son, Josh, will be 19 years old in just a few days, which seems unbelievable. In the spring, he graduated from homeschool and is now enjoys working at his first job.

Josh is quite different than my oldest son, Matt. His compassionate heart and desire to please require that we coach him differently to guide him toward confidence and success.

This was something that I learned several years ago when I made Josh cry. And I will be honest and say that I really wasn’t sorry about it at the time.

We were in crunch time of studying for the fourth-grade spelling bee. In the public school that year, Josh was in the final group of 15 students who would complete in just two short days in front of his peers. He was given a list of 600 words to review only seven days before the event. Initially, he didn’t want to compete in this elective spelling bee. Still, I knew the challenge would teach Josh the benefits of hard work and good competition.


This particular evening, we were on word #247. 


“Mom! I’m missing too many words! I CAN’T DO THIS!”  


“Of course you can. You are the smartest kid I know. And the best speller.”


“No, I’m not. I can’t remember how to spell these words!”


“That’s because you haven’t learned them yet. We are learning them now.”


“How many words did I miss on this page?”


“Don’t worry about that. We are just reviewing right now.”


After a few more misspelled words, his eyes started to glisten with tears.


“Mom! I’m not good at this. Can we stop now?”


“No. I know you can do this. Just a couple more words, and we’ll stop for the day.”

I felt like Mother and Coach of the Year. NOT.


I was confident that I knew my child and his capabilities. He really was a good speller. Was I pushing him? Yes. Did I encourage him along the way?  Yes. Was it hard work?  Yes. (For him and for me!) Doubts would surface, and frustration would set in. I could see how he was progressing, but he could not. I was hoping to build his determination, but he felt defeat. That’s where the tears began to roll down his cheeks.


Don’t we always tell our kids that doing new things can be difficult, but hard work pays off, and rewards are along the way? My goal was to teach Josh this lesson.


The night before the spelling bee, we persevered through the rest of the list, and by then, I wanted the whole thing to be over as much as he did. When I would see frustration, I would stop, encourage and praise him for what he was doing right. I could see that he was nervous, but I quickly assured him that those feelings were normal.   


Despite my good intentions, I neglected one important thing: to ask him questions to determine what was really going on in his mind. Instead, I gave encouragement based on what I was seeing, not what I was hearing.  


My husband saw this interaction, and through his God-given wisdom, Chris saw what I could not. Chris learned that while Josh was nervous about the next day, it wasn’t about how he would do with spelling as much as that he would disappoint his parents by failing. Josh, with his tender heart, would do anything to please and to keep the peace. Chris not only encouraged Josh, but he prayed with him at bedtime and stayed with him until he was relaxed and could fall asleep.  


Josh didn’t need stress relief; he needed failure relief. He needed to understand and grasp that no matter what, he had worked hard. Wherever he finished -- we were always his biggest cheerleaders.   

He didn’t need my motivation as much as he needed my patience, praise, and prayer. While Josh agreed that he could do well in the spelling bee, he needed the assurance that he would be well with us, no matter what happened. 


The following morning, there was a brighter outlook. I made a nutritious breakfast for Josh and sent him off to school on the bus, telling him we would see him at the spelling bee. And by his request, I promised not to sit too close.


During the spelling bee, you know what I saw? Confidence. Josh marched to the microphone and spelled word after word, not showing an ounce of nervousness at each turn. Seeing the assurance in this ten-year-old as he spelled for his peers was not the result of my coaching; it was an answer to prayer. This was the real win, and we didn’t mind where he finished in the contest.

He was awarded second place.

Yet – I was the one who learned the 4th-grade spelling bee. 


  1. Well, I am going to say it took all of your efforts: Josh's hard work and perseverance, your little push and encouragement AND Dad's patience and prayer. Good work, team!

  2. Josh's inner super power kicked in. And his parents set the stage.

  3. It's so important that our kids know we love and appreciate them for themselves, and not their achievements.

  4. So very true... and learning that we are on their side helps so much.. What matters is that they tried and success or failure are immaterial really..


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