Nurturing Healthy Self-esteem
By Sylvia Cochran – Christian Parenting
Self-esteem is pop culture’s buzzword. It is to the self-help section at the bookstore what burgers and fries are to fast-food joints across the nation.
Are there Biblical concepts that explain how to nurture healthy self-esteem in today’s children? More importantly, are there mistakes that even well meaning parents make?
More to Self-esteem than meets the Eye
Harvard University has argued that “people with high self-esteem are happier, as well as more likely to undertake difficult tasks and persevere in the face of failure.” At the same time, some studies fail to prove this connection. This has led to the differentiation between implicit and explicit self-esteem.
- Implicit self-esteem is defined as the ways we choose to interpret conversations, others’ actions and non-actions with respect to ourselves. It is an automatic response that comes from within us and likely hearkens back to upbringing, past experiences and learned behaviors.
- Explicit self-esteem is defined as the kinds or words we say and actions we take with respect to ourselves. Negative self-talk is a prime example of lacking self-esteem here.
It is entirely possible to speak one way but feel another. For example, we may portray to others that we feel secure and loved by God. On the inside, however, it is possible to harbor serious doubts. To further complicate matters, there is the possibility of a “genetic predisposition” to having high self-esteem.
Pursuing Self-esteem for its own Sake is a Fool’s Bargain
American society has gone to great lengths to foster self-esteem in its children, particularly in girls. This has led to practices that remove incentives for self-improvement. Why should a young athlete work harder at kicking a soccer goal if every player gets a trophy? Why would a young artist hone her skills at water coloring any more if all art show participants receive a ribbon? Harvard experts have cited some researchers who believe that this type of practice encourages “self-centeredness” as opposed to self-esteem.
“It can hardly be harmful for therapists to encourage patients to take credit for their accomplishments. But constant attention to self-validation is not a road to good mental health.”
What the Bible says
Is there a Biblical path to having healthy implicit and explicit self-esteem that harmonize? Indeed, there is, and the Christian parent will be well advised to help children to walk this path as early and as often as possible.
- Forgive completely and love others just as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:18 teaches not to hold grudges, not to seek revenge, but to love naturally. Children are naturally self-seeking, but if this selfishness is translated into caring for others just as the children care about themselves, self-esteem is bound to be a natural byproduct of this action. A child who is not obsessed with those who wronged her will not grow up to become a teen who is obsessed with what others may say about her behind her back.
- Treat others with dignity. Leviticus 19:14 and 16 warn against mistreating the disabled and slandering others. Teaching a child how to treat others with respect and dignity creates the expectation that the youngster, too, will be treated in this manner by others. When this does not happen, the child is more likely to choose friends who will treat him well rather than sticking with those who are abusive.
- Listen to advice of spiritual people. Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-ff) almost did not get healed of leprosy because he thought the advice of Elisha the prophet was too simple. He changed his mind and was healed, but consider the stubbornness that had to be overcome. Children must learn early on, how to recognize spiritual people – as opposed those who wear the mantle of religiosity for their own gain – and how to trust their advice.
- Accept your shortcomings and then overcome them. Gideon (find his story in Judges 6) was a coward who sorely tested God’s patience. What stands out is his realization that he had shortcomings. With God’s help, he overcame them. Your child will have shortcomings. There is no value in glossing over these or explaining them away. While a parent should not dwell on them, a wise mother or father will teach a son or daughter to understand which areas of the character need refinement. With prayer, practical exercises and working together, these shortcomings can be overcome.
So what is the trick to nurturing healthy self-esteem in a child today? It is not the ribbon for 10th place or the trophy for being part of the losing soccer team. Instead, it is parental training that teaches a youngster to be outward focused and live to benefit society. In so doing, the parent must instill the value that this type of behavior is expected from others as well, and those who do not act in this manner may not be worthy of close friendship. By inoculating the child against staying in and maintaining destructive relationships, half the battle for self-esteem is won.
Harvard University at https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance-of-self-esteem
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