As a mom, I spend a lot of time in the car, shuffling my kids to and from school and activities (read: many opportunities to listen to the radio). Today, I caught a talk show host interviewing a child psychologist. The topic was how to give your children the best chance of staying on the right path. In her practice the number one stressor facing parents is knowing how to raise happy kids who make good choices.
The trick, she advised, was to make sure they know who they are. Those who know who they are won’t be shaken by conflicting ideas. The examples she gave focused on a child’s identity based on their successes, peer group, or appearance.
As I listened, I realized how providential it was that I stumbled upon this interview.
My mouth gaped at the truths being promulgated, and I longed to close the loop. I wanted to call in and say, “Yes! The most important lesson we can teach our children is who they are!”
The expert is right. But there’s only one answer to that question that will satisfy the longing in our child’s heart and keep them on the right track.
That answer is who they are to God through Christ Jesus.
So how do we help our children develop their identity around this truth?
- Focus on their hearts, not their behavior
Our children may exhibit behavior that has us worrying about their self-esteem. All the sudden their clothes just don’t look right; their need to belong is leading them to the wrong crowd; they start to rebel against family expectations. We can try to change their behavior, we could even buy them a whole new wardrobe, but these responses only put a band aid on the underlying issue. In fact, they could have the damaging affect of reinforcing their beliefs that they’re not good enough or that looks matter.
Behavior reflects the posture of our hearts. Talk to your children from a young age about why, when and how God created them. He knitted them in your womb (Psalm 139:13). Knitting is an intricate process. It’s very hands-on. This means they are no accident, but rather a masterpiece created by God Himself. Scripture also says God made them for a particular purpose “long ago” (Ephesians 2:10). How special that the God of the universe had them in mind for a mission before time began. Finally, God made them because He loves them and wants to spend eternity in their presence (John 3:16). Understanding this at the heart level will establish firm roots in their sense of self, enabling them to dismiss any conflicting opinions or dissenting voices.
- Teach them about Jesus
The only person we want our children to compare themselves to is Jesus. We must teach them this from an early age. Any other measuring stick will come up short and wanting. No amount of striving to attain an identity, or to increase one’s self-esteem, or to “find” oneself apart from Christ will amount to anything more than vanity.
We want them to have a sense of identity, but not based upon looks or abilities. Scripture says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). And not based upon things of this world. Scripture says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). The wisest man to ever live, King Solomon, even lamented even over accumulating much wisdom saying, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18).
When children understand these truths deep in their heart, they will have the best chance of not diverting from the right track.
- Help them to look beyond themselves
A great way your child can enhance his or her self-esteem is to help others. Scripture says “Give and you will receive. You will be given much. Pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you” (Luke 6:38).
Jesus isn’t just talking about material things. Our children will get so much more such as a joy that defies their circumstances. Our kids are preprogramed to be self-interested. We can shift their paradigm and increase their self-esteem by teaching them to consider others first. What a relief they get to take their focus off themselves for a change and onto the needs of others. This develops a sense of resilience and humility. The perspective gained from seeing the struggles of others can give them a more honest assessment of their own “problems.” It can develop a sense of appreciation for what they have, rather than a sense of bitterness over what they don’t. Our children might be surprised at how good it feels to put others first.
If you are struggling to raise a child with high self-esteem, one who’s happy and content, one who makes good choices and stays out of trouble, then teach them the most important lesson they could ever learn: who they are to God.
It’s the only identity that really matters.