“You can do anything you set your mind to.”
“You have everything you need within yourself.”
“Believe in yourself.”
I’m sure you recognize these statements that are so prevalent in our society today. They’re always spoken with the best of intentions, aiming to build up the self-esteem of the hearer.
Unfortunately, I’m learning that the more common an idea is in our culture, the more cautious I need to be about absorbing it.
In fact, the term “self-esteem” has become taboo in some Christian circles, as Christ-followers rightly resist self-centered statements like those above.
But here’s the thing…self-esteem can be defined as my perception of my worth, and I’m pretty sure my Creator doesn’t want His children to assign themselves a worth of “0.”
You see, self-esteem is a good and healthy thing; but the source of self-esteem must be gauged carefully. Here are seven ways to build your child’s self-esteem…God’s way!
Teach them what the Bible says about them. There is no better guideline for self-esteem than what God has to say about us. Our children need to know they were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). They need to know they are precious to God and dearly loved (Isaiah 43:4). They need to know that God valued His relationship with them so much that He paid for it with His own Son’s life (John 3:16).
But they also need to know the rest of the story. They need to know that at their very core, they are sinners (Romans 3:23). They need to know that their very best efforts, apart from God, amount to filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). They need to know that, left to their own devices, they are nothing short of God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21).
Won’t these harder truths undermine their self-esteem? Absolutely not!
Because guess what…our kids already know they aren’t perfect. Even without anyone telling them, they learn it from their God-given consciences. Coming to understand that they’re full of faults and flaws but that God loves them anyway is one of the biggest possible boosts to self-esteem. To be loved unconditionally by One who knows every single rotten, ugly, evil thing about them indicates their intrinsic worth — the value God sees in them apart from what they do or how they serve…just because of who they are.
Compliment their character more than their appearance, skills, and talents. Being too aware of our own strengths can breed vanity, pride, self-centeredness, entitlement, snobbishness, and a host of other sins. Why do we praise children for their beauty, their abilities, and their intelligence, when they had absolutely no hand in making themselves that way? Praise their neatness; compliment their work ethic; rejoice in their perseverance. But resist the natural parental urge to praise them lavishly for those things that aren’t character-related.
Let them know that they matter and that you notice them, without constantly offering praise. One important barometer of a child’s self-esteem is the attention of his parents. Just being noticed matters so much more than we realize. On the other hand, too much praise can cause our positive words to lose their meaning. If every job is a “good job,” every performance is “wonderful,” every attempt is “great,” how will our children be inspired to strive for true excellence? Instead of praising so frequently, try some of these statements:
“I noticed that you made your bed without being asked this morning.”
“I see that you’re working extra hard to be kind to your sister today.”
“I can tell you have been practicing faithfully this week.”
Work to undo the damage caused by culture. It’s important to recognize that despite our best efforts, our kids are constantly receiving messages from our culture and from other people. We must be alert to these messages, and spend time counteracting those that aren’t based in biblical truth.
For example, my youngest child has always gotten many compliments about her beauty. I began to be curious about how this was affecting her, so when she was barely three years old, I asked her to finish my sentence: “Julianne is _____________.” Her first response was “so cute.” I asked her to do it again and again, and every single response had to do with her appearance.
I worked with her for weeks, providing her with different words to fill in the blanks. Words like loved, kind, smart, and fun. It took quite a while before she began filling in the blank with other words without my prompting. But how my heart rejoiced when she did!
Limit leisure screen time. What does this have to do with self-esteem? Studies are showing that large amounts of screen time are linked with higher rates of depression in young people. After all, God created us with a need to be needed…to be purposeful. And since screen time can encourage laziness and lack of productivity, it really shouldn’t surprise us that depression can result.
Create opportunities for them to serve. Kids should be serving at home, serving in church ministries, serving in outreach opportunities, and serving in their communities. Contrary to popular belief, work wasn’t a result of man’s fall. God gave Adam the tasks of naming the animals and tending the garden (Genesis 2:15, 19). Work makes us feel purposeful. It makes us feel needed. It makes us realize that we can contribute to the betterment of others. That we can make a difference and that we have something to offer — all of which are important aspects of self-esteem.
Encourage them to explore their God-given talents and abilities, and then to hone them and use them in ways that honor Him. God gifts people with talents and abilities. Some are artists, some are musicians, some are athletes. Some are highly intelligent, some are technically gifted, some are extremely compassionate. We must teach our kids to recognize their abilities as God-given, not a source of sinful pride. Our kids need to know they have been carefully chosen as stewards, and that they must be faithful to manage that sacred trust.
How do you build a healthy, godly self-esteem in your kids? I would love to hear your thoughts on this critical topic!