By Bev and Phil Haas
I often hear about the importance of boosting a child’s self-esteem. But how can we accomplish that without making our children self-absorbed?
Self-esteem is a psychological term used to reflect a person’s overall evaluation of his or her own worth. Our self-esteem then refers to what we think about our self. Each of us has eternal worth, whether or not we realize it. Feelings of worthlessness, although common, are false. Though someone may feel worthless at times, his or her worth in the sight of God remains unchanged.
A healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean being narcissistic or arrogant; it means having a realistic understanding of who we are in God’s eyes. A biblical view of self falls somewhere between being created in God’s image and tarnishing that image by sin. In Romans 12:3 Paul strikes a healthy balance when he advises us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (NLT).
Dr. Bill Sears, a noted pediatrician and respected author of parenting books, points out, “Self-esteem is the foundation of a child’s well-being and a key to success as an adult. At all ages, how we feel about ourselves affects how we act.” Think back to a time you were feeling really good about yourself. You probably found life much easier. When you think back to when you didn’t feel so good about yourself, the opposite was most likely true.
Parents Can Boost Self -Esteem
Children are not born with a high or low self worth; it’s something they learn. With that in mind, you can see that parents play a major role in helping children develop a balanced sense of self-worth.
We like the uncomplicated approach Dr. Kevin Leman lays out. Dr. Leman, a well-known and widely published Christian psychologist, suggests that parents can cultivate healthy self-esteem in their kids by following what he calls “the ABCs.”
The letter A stands for acceptance. We might not always approve of our children’s choices or behavior, but we always need to let them know that we love and accept them in the same way God loves and accepts us. In other words, you can tell your child the music he is listening to is unacceptable. But don’t give him the impression that he is unacceptable. If you want to send a strong message to your child that he is accepted, listen and ask questions to show you care about his interests and concerns.
In short, develop a relationship with your kids. Dr. Leman says, “Without a relationship, your rules, your words, and your actions mean nothing. The wedge between you and your children will drive them toward searching for the A and B—Acceptance and Belonging—in a group outside your home.”
The letter B stands for belonging. Everyone wants to belong. We can give our kids a sense of belonging by creating a sense of community within the family. It’s important that we give our children a voice in family decisions when appropriate, that we listen to what they have to say, and that we support them in their activities.
Finally, the letter C stands for competence. We can give our children the gift of competence by allowing them to experience life firsthand. This means we must avoid being helicopter parents who hover over their children. And we should fight the urge to do for our kids what they can do for themselves. Even when they make mistakes, they’ll be gaining life experience that will boost their sense of self worth in the long run.
We’ve added the letter D, which stands for develop your own self-esteem so that you can provide your kids with a positive model of what a balanced self-esteem looks like—neither thinking too highly nor too lowly of yourself.
Acceptance, belonging, and confidence—if we can instill these ABCs in our kids (and ourselves), we’ll be setting them on the path to a healthy and balanced self-esteem. There you have it: Leman’s ABCs and our D of building self-esteem in your kids. Granted, it may not be as easy as singing the song, but with a little practice and a lot of perseverance, your kids can grow up to become capable adults who know they are loved by you and by God.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have one grandson.