When I was asked to write about building self-esteem/self-worth in children I thought, “Sure, I can do that. Easy peasy.” After all my husband and I raised three children who seem to be doing fine as confident adults now. So, I sat down at my computer and began typing away . . . trashed what I wrote, started over . . . same thing. I’ve been struggling with this topic for a few weeks now. Big sigh . . . my take is that the world today presents more of a challenge for kids to grow healthy self-esteem than ever before. The bullying and comparing themselves to others that kids have always experienced has been magnified by social media, which actually has created social meanies. That has served to make life much tougher on kids than it used to be.
Please know that I don’t claim to have answers as to how to build self-esteem into children . . . just ideas and observations. Many adults still struggle on some level with their own self-esteem, so how can they grow healthy self-esteem in children? Perhaps by giving them what we all long for . . . time, interest, honesty, encouragement, sincerity, and compassion.
Here’s the reality—children may struggle with their feelings about themselves because they aren’t the star athlete, student, musician or whatever is trending in their world. Then they develop feelings of inadequacy. They may feel bad that they aren’t the prettiest or skinniest or have the most stylish clothes. They may feel bad about themselves because they have made bad choices or failed at things. Tough stuff.
How do you, as a parent or caretaker, guide them through these feelings?
One difficult but very good way is to teach your children to own their actions. If they make a bad choice or if they fail . . . own it, don’t let them claim that their problem is caused by someone else, and don’t let them try to justify away their action. Encourage them to own it and learn from it. This step toward maturity will help them learn that a bad choice or failure does not define who they are as a person. It’s just one experience and if they accept that they committed the action or behavior and grow from it, then it doesn’t become a black mark on their opinion of themselves.
Children want to feel that they matter . . . well, don’t we all? They want to believe that what they bring to the table is worthwhile and of value. So . . . show them they matter by being interested in what they are interested in. Encourage them to explore that interest. Help them do so . . . even realizing that their attention may quickly flip to something else as they explore all the world has to offer.
More than anything else, pray with your children. Read God’s Word with them. Help them to see that who they are is who God made them to be. Show them the stories of God’s followers who sinned, failed, feared . . . but were used by God in spite of those things.
Tell your children some of the failures, fears and struggles that you yourself have had. They will learn that those feelings are not the end. They will grow beyond them or learn to work through them just as you have.
It’s important for kids to know that one bad choice, one failure, one bully, one “not good enough” does not define a whole life, though those things are all a part of life. Help your kids learn that the process of feeling at home in their skin, of knowing and loving themselves, is a continual journey and it’s one worth pursuing.
Adults, we have the responsibility and privilege of steering our kids toward maintaining a healthy, accepting and loving view of themselves. We get to help them see the beauty and glory that God created within them—in fact, may we all come to know this truth more each day.
Carolyn Larsen is the author of more than 50 books for children and adults, including Princess Stories: Real Bible Stories of God’s Princesses and the trilogy What Does God Really Promise?, Can I Really Know Jesus?, and Has Anyone Ever Seen God?