Building Self-Esteem in Children

As adults, we understand that our own self-image begins with our understanding of God’s view of us. He created us a little lower than the angels, and gave up His Son in order to save us. That makes each of us important in God’s eyes and gives us value.

So how do we instill in our children an important self-image?

We should treat our children as God’s gifts.

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Children are important since they are gifts from God. We need to frequently tell our children that they are gifts to us from God. That is true whether they are natural-born children or adopted children. God gives us our children. We should recognize that and make sure our children understand that.

We should not expect more out of them than they can perform.

In Colossians 3:21, Paul wrote fellow Christians: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” To build a healthy self-image in our children, we should not expect more out of them than they can perform. There is a line between challenging our children to be better and to do better and expecting more out of them than they can give. Fathers can sometimes be impatient and not allow their children to grow and mature. Sometimes we expect a 10-year-old to live or think more like a 20-year-old. Of course, it will not happen.

We should provide a stable home that is functional and peaceful.

If we want our children to have a healthy self-image, we need to strengthen our marriages. Our children develop a view of life, a view of others, and a view of themselves from how mom and dad interact with one another. Do you respect your spouse? Do you listen to your spouse? When you and your spouse have a disagreement, do you disagree with respect and understanding? If you lash out at your spouse for something that is largely irrelevant and unimportant, your children will get the idea that you will lash out at them even if they do something irrelevant and unimportant. That makes for a poor self-image. They are afraid to try because they are afraid to make a mistake and they do not want to get a tongue-lashing. A functional family makes for healthy children.

This brings me to a larger point. Fathers, especially, are responsible for the family being a healthy environment—not just physically but also emotionally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. When your child knows that you are looking out for their best interest, it communicates love, value, and respect. They have a healthy self-esteem as a result. Teaching them the Bible, talking about the Bible at home frequently, also helps them develop the all-important “God-esteem” that they need. They need to have a relationship with God, and teaching them God’s Word is the way to do that.

We should let children be children.  

Children need time to just play and relax. We feel like our children need to be busy, busy, busy from the time we pick them up after school until bedtime. We schedule, schedule, schedule. But what happens when you make your children “entertain themselves”? Send kids outside, just to play, and they will be forced to use their imaginations. They will become active thinkers, not passive receivers. A few years ago, I read a book written by education researchers. The title of the book says it all: Einstein did not use flash cards (unstructured playtime.)

We should focus on our children’s strengths rather than their weaknesses.

What may happen is that their weakness is our strength so that we compare them (unfairly) to ourselves. Let us look at them as unique individuals, made in the image of God with a special blend of strengths and weaknesses. Let them be themselves, and focus on their strengths.

 We should remember that children are human beings.

I am seven years older than my youngest brother. I remember occasionally Dad would ask of my brother, “Why did he do that?” Mom would respond, “Because he’s_____ years old.” Mom was allowing Tim to be a child, to grow, and to make mistakes. Be quick to forgive your children. Don’t force them to do “penance” either. If they need to repay for breaking something, that’s one thing. But don’t treat them as if they have to do good to counterbalance the bad they have done. If you have to punish, make the point, forgive, and then move on.

Related to weaknesses, we should help them overcome obstacles. 

Overcoming obstacles is a fantastic way to develop a healthy self-image. You make a list of solutions to the obstacles. Then you evaluate the solutions—which ones will work, which ones will not work under the available circumstances? You choose a solution to try. If it does not work, you try something else. If you will help your children evaluate the solutions and choose which ones to try, once they solve obstacles, they will feel successful. 

We should discipline our children with love.

A person falling out of a tree flails with his arms. He needs boundaries, something to steady against. Emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, children also need boundaries. Observe your children and what they really love, and then use that to help discipline them. I would not recommend this with all children, but I can threaten to take her books away from my daughter Jewell and it motivates her!

Finally, we should help our children feel a sense of belonging.

Let them know you are glad they are home from school, home for the holidays, home for the summer. Let them know that you are glad and thankful to have them in your presence. God tells us as Christians that we are vital parts of the body. Children need to be taught the same relative to our physical families and feel the same way in the family. Chores are a good way to help children feel needed and contributing.

May God help all of us parents prepare our children to spend eternity with Him.