“I don’t like myself!’ Tears flowed down my son’s face. I was astounded to hear such words from an eight year old child and didn’t know what to do.
Every parent wants their child to like themselves, to feel good about who they are, and to have self-confidence.
Simply put, it’s about how happy you are to be you. How valuable you feel and believe you are.
A lot of what poses as self-esteem is vanity and pride yet the Bible tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 19:19). How do we get our children to love themselves without being proud and selfish? Is it possible to love yourself without being vain?
Your child’s words and actions will give a good indication of how they feel about themselves. Here are some signs of low self-esteem:
If your child has low self-esteem or you want to be sure to instill in your child a healthy sense of value, do these things:
Liking themselves will depend on how much they understand God’s love for them. Their value has already been determined by God – He sent His Son to die for them. Their value is not determined by their behaviour or performance because “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
Parents need to demonstrate this truth. Do you value your kids for who they are or how well they perform? Do they know that your love for them is unconditional?
Sin destroys self-respect. If you allow your kids to do wrong without consequence they will lose respect for themselves. It is not a bad thing for a child to see himself or herself in a true light – yucky. But don’t leave your children there. Bring them to Christ and teach them to confess their sins and seek forgiveness from God as well as from the one they have wronged.
Scolding a child for being unkind is not the answer. Reason with them – provided they are at the age of reason. Help them to see what they have done and then give them a consequence.
Something that worked in my home was to get the one who had been unkind do the other child’s chores for the day. It’s a good feeling to be able to make right what they have done wrong.
Related: How to teach kids to apologise well
Weaknesses can be changed – to the point where they become strengths. To have weakness does not make your kids bad but it can make their lives and the lives of those around them more difficult. Helping your child learn to be neat instead of untidy, to be cheerful instead of morose, to be helpful instead of lazy, will restore self-respect in them.
Within reason. I say within reason because fashion is a cruel dictator. Kids shouldn’t be slaves to fashion but they should be allowed to dress in a way that makes them feel good about themselves.
Some fashion demands the “sloppy look”. Sloppy, untidy dressing leads to sloppy, untidy manners and a low self-esteem. There is nothing attractive about baggy shirts and saggy pants.
Expect modesty from your girls. Attention gained because they have revealed too much skin is not going to give them a true sense of value. It will teach them that their only value is in their body.
Overweight children not only have health problems but they struggle with feelings of self-hatred and low self-worth. Make sure your children eat well-balanced meals at proper times and that they get enough exercise. They should feel good about what their bodies look like and can do. Teach them to accept the bodies God gave them and to do the best they can with what they have.
Children need challenges and responsibilities. If kids feel that they are part of something and are needed they will have a great sense of self-worth. Teach your kids how to mow the lawn, wash dishes, clean house. If you have no opportunities for work in your home then create work opportunities for them elsewhere.
Related: 12 Reasons to give your kids chores
Pride is the result of self-esteem based on false praise. Praising children for being the best at sport, the most handsome, or the smartest at school, is based on externals and performance. What happens when he or she doesn’t perform, or someone more beautiful comes along?
“But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” 2 Corinthians 10:12
True praise sounds like this:
“Well, done. You set the table neatly and finished in good time. You didn’t allow yourself to become distracted.”
“Good for you! You worked hard at your math lesson and now you have some free time.”
This kind of praise does not compare your child with anyone else. It encourages them to keep on doing good and doesn’t promote pride or selfishness.
My kids laugh and tell me that I am not an accurate indicator of how well they are doing because I would be proud of them even if they were a tramp. They know that I value them for who they are and not what they can do. I am proud of their accomplishments but that’s not what gives them value in my eyes.
To know that you love them, always, is the best self-esteem booster for your kids. Look into their eyes and tell them. Give them affection. Make sure your kids know that you love them.
If your child expresses negative things about themselves, acknowledge it if it’s true, but don’t leave your child there. Help them to see their strengths and encourage them to change what they can and accept what they can’t.
Teach them to encourage themselves with kind words.
When your child understands their value to God, they can stand up for themselves – not because they are vain, but because they are a child of the King and deserve to be heard, understood, and treated well.
Their beliefs, needs, and opinions are just as important as those of other people. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and say what they think without being loud or aggressive.
Learning something new gives anyone a real boost. Your child may be reluctant to try new things because they lack confidence in themselves. Give them support as they learn to cook, sew on a button, or fix a puncture on their bicycle.
What do you do to help your kids like themselves? What do you need to change?