Surviving the county fair: Tips for parents to help make the most of positive learning opportunities

County fairs can be stressful and emotional for families. Parents, you can help make it a positive experience for your child by leading by example!

Boys showing pigs
Photo by Marsanne Petty, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Recently, I shared a post on my personal Facebook page that addressed a few things I have commonly seen through my professional and personal life as a 4-H educator, a 4-H parent and a 4-H volunteer. It quickly went viral as a great reminder for parents to always remember that their kids are listening and watching everything they do.

Consider being intentional in your acts at the fair in the following ways.

Honor the judging process

I spoke with long-time judge, Kevin Gould, who offered some sage advice about the judging process. He said, “Judges only see what is in front of them in the ring. Judges are doing the best they can and we need parents to respect the process”. Remember that this is your child’s opportunity to show what they have learned and practiced at home. Will everything go perfectly? Probably not because animals have a mind of their own sometimes, but as soon as your child is in the ring, you are a spectator.

As the class concludes, judges will provide either written, in small animals, or oral feedback, in large animals, about the class. In large animals, the judges’ reasons will explain what he or she is evaluating in the class, how that influences the larger animal industry and how those values influence the class placing. Take the opportunity to listen and learn from the judge. They are the person getting paid for their opinion on that day. If you don’t agree with their opinion, don’t disparage the judge. Instead, take the opportunity to teach your child good conflict resolution skills and at the conclusion of the show, take your child and ask the judge why they placed a class a certain way. You still may not agree, but teaching your child that it is OK for people to have a difference of opinion is an invaluable lesson.

When the class is over, make sure to tell your child all the things they did right instead of focusing on what they did wrong. Every time they step in the show ring, it is a learning opportunity; treat it as such and help them grow and learn so they can continue to improve.

Always practice good sportsmanship in and out of the show ring

Period. End of discussion. Every family in the barn has different resources, different experiences and different priorities. Model good sportsmanship by congratulating everyone, offering a kind word and practicing compassion and grace, even when it is hard to do.

Some great phrases to say are:

  • “Good job! I can really tell you worked hard with your project and it shows!”
  • “Wow, your animal really set up nicely!”
  • “I know things didn’t go as well as you would have hoped, but you did a great job keeping your composure! I admire that!”

We all have our own situations; you never know when a kind word makes all the difference in the world to someone else. The youth who seems to win all the time may feel like that is the only place they belong and can be successful. The youth who places at the bottom of the class every year may have no support system to gain the knowledge to progress in their project. We just never know what battles others fight; children are no different. Be kind and a good sport no matter what.

Encourage and support the program requirements

Record books, food stand shifts and barn duty may be required in order to participate at the fair. Begrudging these tasks only sets a negative tone for things that are meant to help youth build their skill set. Instead, take the opportunity to teach your child that not everything in life is fun; sometimes we have to do the not so fun stuff in order to do the fun stuff. Encourage and support your child in these tasks. I can guarantee they are learning new things and creating memories while they are doing them, and sometimes those required things can turn out to be memorable experiences.

Always model a good attitude

I guarantee someone or something will upset you or not go as you would hope during the fair. Remember that practicing patience, extending a lot of grace to others and paying attention to your own family’s experience will eliminate unnecessary drama and hard feelings. Being intentional about finding the good in situations rather than the bad is a great life lesson to teach your child. Not everything is in your control, but you can always control how you respond.

A fair experience is probably the highlight of your child’s summer. Make sure to enjoy it with them, make memories and have it be a positive experience.

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