As parents, we desperately want to instill a sense of confidence and self-esteem in our children. However, as well-intentioned as we might be, we often stop short of teaching them where true confidence comes from. We tell our kids how awesome, beautiful, smart, and talented they are. I believe It is good to tell our kids these things! However, we can’t stop there. If we stop there, we will end up with kids who are insecure and have low self-esteem. But why is this?
We are biased in favour of our kids, as we should be! They have been gifted to us and we need to champion them. Our kids need to know their parents have their backs and are a place of security and safety as they navigate life and the challenges in it.
But our kids also know we are biased in their favour. It is not uncommon to hear things like, “You’re just saying that because you’re my mom.” So even while our kids know we’ve got their back, that is not what gives them self-confidence. They know we as parents are bias. What they really need is an objective perspective on their identity.
The flip side is that our kids believe our opinions too much and they develop a sense of superiority – they actually believe they are more awesome, more beautiful, more smart, and more talented than others. They don’t develop the humility that comes from a healthy self-esteem. Then when difficulty or hardship comes, their identity is shaken more than it should be.
Part of raising confident kids comes teaching our kids that there will be people who DON’T like them. I am always stunned when I think of how ill-prepared we are to handle mistreatment. It is something we should expect in our own lives, and we should teach our kids that it will happen to them too.
If our kids don’t have a true sense of worth and identity outside our opinions of them, they will believe others are saying about them.
Who God Says They Are
The foundation for healthy confidence and self-esteem in our kids (and the rest of us) is understanding who God says they are. We want our kids to have a strong self-identity but what does that mean and how can we implement it as parents?
Their Unique Identity
My husband and I have three kids, all with different dispositions, personalities, and interests. Before we even had kids, we talked about how we would parent them and what our expectations would be of them. We determined that we wanted them to be who God wants them to be and that we would not place expectations on them in terms of what they should be interested in or try and live vicariously through them. Rather, we would focus on what their character would be like as they participated in their interests. We would encourage them to try different things, stick to their commitments, be polite and have a good attitude while doing so.
So how has this played out?
As a child, my husband was a HUGE sports guy. He played every organized sport and in his spare time, he played and practiced more sports. As an adult he has coached and reffed basketball and football, he has gone to sporting events all over the place, and he gets together to watch sports with his buddies.
As it turns out, our sons have virtually no interest in sports, other then they like the snacks and the hype.
My husband is 100% okay with it. He has never pressured them to play or watch, but is always available if they want to. He sometimes shakes his head and wonders how it is possible that his boys aren’t that interested in sports, but he is not disappointed in them and never makes them feel bad about it. This is because we want them to be who God has made them to be, not who we want them to be.
We have also made a point to never EVER compare our kids to each other in a negative way. When we compare our kids, we say things like, “Isn’t it incredible how God has designed each of you the way He wants you to be to accomplish the purpose He has for you?” Or, “We don’t want you to be like each other, we want you to be you.” We want them to know that they are unique, that they don’t need to be like anyone else, and that we can’t wait to see how God will use them.
Their Identity in Christ
As parents it is imperative that our kids understand that their identity comes from who Jesus says they are, not who the world says they are. So we tell them they are chosen and beloved and that God is for them – important truths! But there is a part parents often leave out that is fundamental to the freedom that comes from being a child of God. And that is the reality that we are born sinners.
It’s a problem if our kids think that they are inherently born good. Think about it, if we are born good, our sins are nothing more than mistakes we make. If we stop making these mistakes, we are back to being good – we determine if we are good or not. But this is wrong! We are NOT good. We are inherently sinful from day one. Our sins aren’t just mistakes, they flow out of our sinful nature that we need rescuing from. It is essential that our kids understand this!
This truth is exactly what will help our kids recognize their identity in Christ! In spite of being born sinful, Jesus sees them as precious, valuable, usable and unique! If they are good, it’s only because of what Jesus did on the cross. This relieves the pressure they feel to be good of their own ability. What freedom!
Protecting their Identity
The other reason it is important for kids to understand that they are born inherently sinful, is because everyone is born inherently sinful. What this means is that there are going to be a lot of sinful people out there who will do bad stuff and say mean things. As our kids grow into teens and adults, they should be aware that there is a good chance they will personally experience being mistreated. It's not okay, but that doesn't stop it from happening.
I have had so many experiences with this!
In my early 20’s, one of my best friends “broke-up” with me. She literally took me out for lunch and said we should stop seeing each other. I was devastated. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. (I later found out her boyfriend did not like me, but it still hurt.)
I worked at a large furniture company in Winnipeg and reported directly to the VP of Marketing. When he left the company, his replacement asked me to come to his office and told me, “I am going to do everything in my power to make sure you never go anywhere in this company.” To this day, I have no idea why.
And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I have countless experiences of rejection and hurt that I could share, as do most of you.
I share these stories with my kids. I tell them about my experiences. I tell them how to respond if it happens to them. And I tell them that they will need to continually forgive so they can still live a life of freedom.
And finally, it is essential that we teach our kids that Christians will let them down, hurt them, and make mistakes, but that they should not judge Jesus by Christians, but judge Christians by Jesus.
Lead by Example
Raising kids is no small task. So while do our best to raise our kids to have an identity anchored in who God says they are, we as parents need to be doing the same. Our kids need to see us lead by example in how we feel about ourselves, how the cross is what make us good, and how we respond to mistreatment. When we as parents do these things, we are laying the foundation for our kids to develop true confidence and security.
If you would like to send Susan a message, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put her name in the subject line.
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