How Your Efforts to Help Your Kids Have Positive Self Esteem Can Backfire

It’s hard to be an informed parent and not have read or at least heard something about the importance of your kids having healthy self esteem. You probably know that self esteem that’s too low can hold your children back in a number of ways. Did you know, though, that if your kids have self esteem that is too high, that can become entitled and narcissistic? That while kids with low self esteem can become bullies, kids whose self esteem is too high can be just as cruel?

So what is the perfect balance? More importantly, what kind of self esteem does God want for your children? If you look at the Bible and all of the scriptures about how to view ourselves, a clear picture emerges. We are the dearly loved creation of God. God sent His son to die on the cross for our sins so that we can spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We have each been given gifts and talents by God to use in service to Him. We are to view ourselves as humble servants, putting the needs of others before our own and loving others – treating them as we would want to be treated. We are to reflect the image of God while being aware we will never be equal to God and bowing to His majesty, commands and wisdom.

Godly self esteem is balanced – recognizing how deeply we are loved and of the gifts we have been given to serve Him, while recognizing our weaknesses and sins and repenting – including trying to be more like Jesus every day.

Parents often make mistakes that throws this balance off in some way. Here are the most common traps to avoid.

  1. Refusing to recognize gifts from God in a child under the guise of encouraging humility. Gifts should be recognized and developed. The balance comes from recognizing these gifts are primarily given for us to serve God – often by serving others. They were not given merely to gain wealth and/or fame.
  2. Focusing on physical appearance. You probably are beginning to realize good looks don’t last forever. Focusing too much on appearance can create self esteem issues when your child gets a pimple, has a bad hair day or eventually ages. An occasional compliment on appearance is fine, but your kids shouldn’t think the only thing they have going for them is their good looks.
  3. Encouraging the use of secular affirmations. Please be very careful what you encourage your kids to say to themselves every day. “I am enough” and other popular affirmations may sound good on the surface, but are spiritually bankrupt at their core. Using scripture (in context) is a great way to make sure your kids are memorizing and repeating the things God wants them to know.
  4. Exaggerating or lying when giving complements. Even little kids are smarter than people often given them credit for being. They know they are not the “best artist in the world”. When you overdo it regularly in your praise, either they believe they are better at something than they actually are or they don’t trust you when they really need to believe they are loved, have talent or whatever. They will think everything you say is because “you have to say that because you are my parent”. It’s plenty just to say you love the drawing with enthusiasm, giving a hug and displaying it on the fridge…. don’t overdo it.
  5. Failing to remind them their strengths are gifts from God. They didn’t create in themselves the ability to be a phenomenal artist (or whatever). God gave them that gift. The byproducts of your children’s gifts are a result of the gift from God and the credit should go to Him. They also need to understand those gifts weren’t about them gaining fame and fortune, but using them to serve others and teach them about God.
  6. Constantly putting down others in an attempt to make your kids feel better about themselves. It’s tempting when a child you think isn’t as worthy as your child gets some accolade rather than your child. You can encourage resilience in your child without knocking down other kids in the process.
  7. Not expecting your kids to work on their weaknesses. “That’s just the way you are” – especially when describing a character weakness or sin is never acceptable. It may be really difficult for them to overcome it. They may need outside help, but you should always encourage a growth mindset – God does.
  8. Using negative “you are” statements when you are angry with them. Telling children “You are bad”, “You are stupid”, etc. can cause them to begin to actually define themselves with those words. Children make bad choices. Telling them they are bad may lead them to think it is impossible for them to make better choices or that it is hopeless even when they do because everyone will always think of them as a bad person.
  9. Allowing your kids to think of themselves as the best – even if they are better than everyone else they know at something. Nobody is the best at everything. The better your kids are at something, the more you need to work with them at sharing their gift, encouraging them to help others trying to become better at it and humbly realizing it is a gift from God that should be used to serve Him in some way. It also can help to remind them that they can’t be the best at everything – even if they are better than the average person at most things. Humility is crucial for living the Christian life. Besides, it’s also important to let them know it’s okay to let others see they really stink at a sport or singing or whatever – it makes them approachable.

Go ahead and help your kids have a healthy self esteem. Just make sure it’s balanced and godly.

Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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