In our last article we discussed how you can help your child attain and maintain a healthy body image. Yet did you know that there is more to a child's image than just body image? It is true! The prettiest, skinniest, and smartest little girls think that they are ugly, fat, and stupid! Why is that? What makes these children believe that they are something less than how God created them?
The world is quick to use qualifiers such as "stupid, lazy, dumb, lame and boring" to describe people's ideas, dreams, and interests. This can be seen in the media, on the playground, and even in the classroom. Sadly, many times churches can also be filled with such put-downs. Of course, they sound spiritual, but are they? If you allow yourself or others to refer to your child's thoughts, aspirations and dreams as "unspiritual, prideful, worldly or heathen ", you are probably contributing to the problem.
Conversely, if you insist that your child learn to love her/himself first and foremost and then go out into the world to do so to others, the odds are that you are doing a lot more damage than you realize.
What God Says About Self Esteem
Interestingly, God does not place the same value on self-esteem that the world with its self-help gurus, books, tapes, and conventions does. As a matter of fact, God makes it very clear that neither the degradation of the self, such as it happens with overly submissive people who do not dare to speak up, nor the exaltation of the self, such as it can be seen with people who believe themselves to be superior to others by virtue of their education, job, or financial acumen, is spiritual and therefore acceptable.
The story of the "Prodigal Son" as it is pictured in the book of Luke 15:11-32 showcases the "aha-moment" when the boy comes to his senses. Interestingly, here the parable is entitled the "lost son" and in verse 17 we see beautifully depicted what happens when the young man suddenly realizes the heights from which he had fallen. He comes to terms with the fact that his very son-ship to his father entitles him to more than he has allowed his life to be.
Wise is the parent who will help her/his child understand that by their very membership in the human race they are worth a lot!
Furthermore, God is very clear in His expectation that simply because He loves us first, we are to love Him and others around us. (I John 4:19-21) But more importantly, we are to take our confidence from the very fact that God loves us, and that this very love does not leave any room for fears of not measuring up, being smart enough, good enough, etc. (I John 4:16b-18)
Wise is the parent who instills this God-given love into their children and does not allow the world and themselves to diminish it in any way, shape, or form!
Self-help literature is filled to the brim with lessons and tips on how to love yourself. It is noteworthy that God does not buy into this idea. Loving yourself is not a command, and no matter what the self-help guru is peddling, self-love and self-esteem do not come from yourself.
Instead, you may find them by first loving God and then those around you.
Consider this simple reality: if you cannot love others, you will not be able to love yourself. If your child is unable to acknowledge another child's achievement, s/he will not be able to give her/himself proper credit for her/his own achievements. If a child cannot reach out in comfort to a hurting playmate, s/he will not be able to allow God to reach out in comfort to her/him.
As a matter of fact, self-love is decried as a sign of the last days; in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 those who love themselves are shown as being contrary to God's pleasure. Love is built up in a person by God and then one's response to that love, not by loving one's self. Self esteem comes from God first, and then from the way we interact with others around us in the way we give to them our love, affection, and time.
Wise is the parent who will invest time and energy in giving a child such affection, and then training the child up to do the same with those around her/him.
So you now know that God takes your child's self esteem extremely serious. What can you do to help her or him develop a healthy sense of self esteem? Here are some key points that will go a long way in developing your child's self esteem:
- Encourage your child daily with words. The world will seek to cut down your child; it is up to you to build her/him up. Words to use include "good, well done, excellent, wow, correct, good idea, clever and of course "I am proud of you.
- Encourage your child daily with your body language. Looking at the clock behind your child's head when s/he is speaking to you is discouraging, but maintaining eye-contact, smiling at the child, giving thumbs up, or simply hugging her/him will show beyond a doubt that you are paying attention and that s/he is important and valued.
- Do not let your child talk down to herself. If the soccer team lost and s/he states that she is the worst player on the team and never can do anything right, be quick to point out good sportsmanship your child may have displayed, the way s/he passed the ball that one time, or simply the way s/he cheered for other team mates.
- Never ever call your child a name such as "lazy or stupid.
- Do not blame your child when you feel angry. Sure, your child's behavior may have contributed to your anger, but you yourself chose to get angry. Your feelings are not your child's responsibility.
- Similarly, teach your child that her/his feelings are entirely her/his responsibility. S/he will decide to feel happy, angry, sad, or somewhere in between.
- Help you child to develop a healthy sense of humor and not take a failure too seriously.
- Point out good things in other people, and help your child look for them in others. Train your child to verbalize these good qualities in other people. A child who is trained to find the good in others will also be able to find them good inside her/himself!