What are some things I can do to help develop a healthy self-image in my children? I don't want them to grow up thinking the world revolves around them, but I do want to instill in them a proper sense of self-respect and of their own value as persons. How should I go about it?
Ephesians 2:10 provides the framework and the foundation for our answer to this question: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God created beforehand that we should walk in them."
To build healthy and balanced self-esteem in your kids, begin by instilling in them a deep understanding of the biblical doctrine of creation. Tell each child, "You are infinitely valuable because God made you. Not only that, but He made you in His own image (Genesis 1:27)! In ways we will never fully be able to explain, you are like God. As a result you have the ability to enjoy a personal relationship with Him. What's more, He has made you with a special purpose in mind. He has a job for you to do, and you are the only one who can do it. You are a masterpiece of God's creativity, unique in all creation!"
At this stage in the process it would be a good idea to expand on the principle of your child's uniqueness in the eyes of God. Ask each kid, "What is it about you that makes you who you are? What gets you excited? What do you love to do most?" Explore their strengths and natural inclinations and help them get enthused about developing their abilities in these areas. At the same time, identify their weaknesses and assure them that it's okay not to be good at everything. Help them to sense that they are known by you and that you fully accept them for who they are. Praise them when they do something right, but be careful not to let praise degenerate into mere empty flattery. Instead, try to keep your comments specific, accurate, and true to the facts – for example, "You may not have scored a goal in that last soccer game, but you played well and I know you've worked very hard in practice to become the best player you can be."
From here, move on to talk about God's love. Underscore the idea that His love is unconditional – that there is nothing we have to do to earn it, and nothing we can do to make Him stop loving us. Point out that God loves us simply because He is our Father and we are His children. Then, when your child has a firm grasp of this concept, ask, "What do you think this says about our relationship?" In no uncertain terms, drive home the idea that there is nothing your children need to do in order to be loved by you. Express your love verbally whenever you get the chance. Write notes to your kids telling them that you're thinking of them and praying for them. And be liberal with hugs and kisses. Even a little bit of physical affection goes a long way.
Once your kids are on the road to a positive self-image, how do you keep them from going over the edge on the other side of the ledger? How do you prevent them from succumbing to the temptation to worship themselves as minor deities and to expect the same treatment from everyone else? That should be relatively easy. A good dose of reality from time to time – a bad grade on the report card or a disappointing loss on the baseball field – should help suffice to do the trick, especially if you're around to help them understand the significance of the situation. Healthy amounts of balanced discipline and loving correction will also go a long way in discouraging attitudes of entitlement and self-centeredness.
You can also direct their attention to what the Scriptures have to say on this point – for instance, Romans 12:3, "Don't think more highly of yourself than you ought to," or Philippians 2:4, "Look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others." When the circumstances call for it, say something like, "You're neither any better nor any worse than anyone else. You're just yourself. So don't go around comparing yourself with others. That's a very dangerous way of finding self-worth." As opportunities arise, encourage your kids to notice and celebrate the strengths and positive qualities of other people. Help them to understand that they don't need to view those people as threats, and that being loved doesn't depend upon being Number One.
One last thought. If you want your children to have a healthy self-image, work on having a healthy self-image yourself. Remember that the vast majority of parental teaching happens by a process of osmosis, and that good attitudes toward life are usually caught rather than taught. If you have a good concept of who you are in the sight of God, that's going to rub off on the people around you.
If you think it might be helpful to discuss your concerns at greater length, we invite you to call and speak with one of our staff counselors for a free consultation.
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