What comes to your mind when you hear the term “self-esteem”?
Given the emphasis on self-esteem in today’s culture, maybe you think of catchphrases like “Believe in yourself” or “Follow your heart.”
While mottos like these are spoken with the best of intentions, aimed to build up the self-esteem of the hearer, they aren’t at all biblical according to Scriptures like Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 3:5-6, and Galatians 6:14.
In fact, the term “self-esteem” has become taboo in some Christian circles, as Christ-followers rightly resist a secular worldview.
But since self-esteem is the perception of one’s own worth, is it right to reject the concept entirely? After all, I’m pretty sure our Creator doesn’t want His children to assign themselves a worth of “0.”
You see, self-esteem is a good thing, but the source of self-esteem must be firmly established by Christian parents. Here are seven ways to help your child build a healthy, Christ-honoring sense of self-esteem.
Biblical Self-Esteem for Christian Kids
1. Teach them what the Bible says about them.
There is no better guideline for self-esteem than what God has to say about us. Our children need to know they were fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14); that they are precious to God and dearly loved (Isaiah 43:4); and that God valued His relationship with them so much that He paid for it with His own Son’s life (John 3:16).
But they also need to know the rest of the story. They need to know that at their very core, they are sinners (Romans 3:23); that their very best efforts, apart from God, amount to filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); and that, left to their own devices, they are nothing short of God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21).
Won’t these harder truths undermine their self-esteem? Absolutely not! Because our kids already know they aren’t perfect. Even without anyone telling them, they learn it from their God-given consciences. Coming to understand that they’re full of faults and flaws but that God loves them anyway is one of the biggest possible boosts to self-esteem. To be loved unconditionally by One who knows every single rotten, ugly, evil thing about them indicates their intrinsic worth — the value God sees in them apart from what they do or how they serve, but just because of who they are.
2. Compliment their character, not their appearance, skills, and talents.
Being too aware of our strengths breeds pride in a host of different forms. Think about it: why do we praise children for their beauty, their abilities, and their intelligence, when they had absolutely no hand in making themselves that way? Praise their orderliness; compliment their determination; rejoice in their initiative. But resist the natural parental urge to praise them lavishly or frequently for those things that aren’t character-related.
3. Pay attention to them without constantly offering praise.
Parental attention matters so much more to kids than we realize. On the other hand, too much praise can cause our positive words to lose their meaning. If every job is a “good job,” every performance is “wonderful,” every attempt is “great,” how will our children be inspired to strive for true excellence? Instead of praising so frequently, try using some simple statements of attention instead. For example:
“I noticed that you made your bed without being asked this morning. I noticed that.”
“I see that you’re working extra hard to be kind to your sister today. I see that.”
“I can tell you have been practicing faithfully this week. I can tell.”
4. Instill counter-cultural messages.
We must be alert to the messages our kids constantly receive from other people and from our culture, and spend time counteracting those that aren’t based in biblical truth. Whether it’s physical appearance, athletic ability, intelligence, or some other natural ability, encourage your child to direct gratitude to God for the gifts He has given, and then to use those gifts well in a way that both pleases Him and points others to Him.
5. Limit screen time.
What does this have to do with self-esteem? Studies are showing that large amounts of screen time are linked with higher rates of depression in young people. This is likely for several reasons, but one that comes to mind is our God-given need to be purposeful. And since screen time can encourage laziness and lack of productivity, it really shouldn’t surprise us that depression can result from too much of it.
6. Encourage them in their God-given talents and abilities.
God gifts people with talents and abilities. Some are artists, some are musicians, some are athletes. Some are highly intelligent, some are technically gifted, some are extremely compassionate. We must teach our kids to recognize their abilities as God-given, not a source of sinful pride. Our kids need to know they have been carefully chosen as stewards, and that they must be faithful to manage that sacred trust.
7. Encourage them to serve.
Once kids have identified the abilities God has entrusted to them, we must encourage them to use those gifts for the good of others. Kids can serve at home, in church ministries, in their communities. Contrary to popular belief, work wasn’t a result of man’s fall. Before sin ever entered the world, God gave Adam the tasks of naming the animals and tending the garden (Genesis 2:15, 19). Work makes us feel purposeful; it makes us feel needed; it makes us realize that we can contribute to the betterment of others and to God’s kingdom. Through service, kids can learn that they can make a difference and that they have something of value to offer, both of which are important aspects of self-esteem.
How do you build a healthy, godly self-esteem in your kids? I would love to hear your thoughts on this critical topic!