I don’t agree with child-centric parenting.
I am not going to tell you that your child’s self-esteem is the most important thing, or that your child needs to be built up so much they think they are the most special person on the planet, or that your kids don’t need to hear hard truths.
But I do agree with building your children up, pouring into them, giving them the self confidence to do well in life and the self-esteem to love who they are how God made them.
This is something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about lately, as I try to develop my strategy for parenting my 13 year old daughter through her struggles with self-esteem and confidence. I want her to grow up strong, confident, and fearless–as she was as a toddler, as she was as a little girl, before the perfectly normal self-conscious pre-teen years made their debut.
I see this as a pivotal time for her, where she learns to conquer her self-doubt (or she doesn’t.)
I believe part of our God-given responsibility as parents is to give our children the tools they need to embrace their strengths and weaknesses, to continue to try when they fail, to continue to improve what needs to be improved, to continue to chase dreams and ideas and goals — so that when the time comes that God puts a talent, or a dream, or a desire on their heart that He wants them to use for His glory, they have what they need to do that.
But there is something that parents often do, even unintentionally, that sabotages this goal, that stabs at the heart of our child’s self-esteem, and prevents our child from embracing their God-given talents and desires.
Comparing Children Impacts Their Self-Esteem
One of the many areas that affects a child’s level of self-esteem is their view of their talents and skills. Comparison, improperly used, is one of the many tools we can wield to chip away at their confidence.
Even if we don’t say it to their faces, sometimes we compare our child’s artwork, or sports skills, or musical ability, or whatever, against the work of other children their ages, to decide if their talent is good or bad.
Is comparing bad??
Comparison isn’t always bad, it really isn’t. But I try to remember:
1.) Few people are natural savants, almost every talented person you know started as a beginner.
2.) Talent is relative. Some people don’t like modern art but some do. Some people hate impressionism, but others love it. Even “the best” is relative. You can’t compare the best opera singer with the best country singer, it’s apples and oranges.
3.) Comparison is a trap that we deal with as adults, and we are well aware of the pitfalls of comparing ourselves with others – we have to be careful not to lead our children into this same bad habit.
What should we do instead? Should we lie and tell them how wonderful they are?
No. We don’t lie to our children either.
Honesty and Encouragement are Essential Parenting Skills
Our children need us to be honest with them, but they need us to be encouraging and supportive also. If a child has a serious interest in a particular skill, they need to feel like they can and should pursue that skill.
And when my child is interested in something and really does need a lot of work, instead of telling them to find something else, I want to find them lessons or find a way to help teach them myself. I don’t want to be the kind of parent that says “you need to work on that,” but then does nothing to help my kids do that.
It’s true that many interests come and go, but even abandoned interests are beneficial, it’s all a part of learning who they are and what they want to do and how they fit into this world. Some children need to try many, many things before they find something they love.
When your child finds something they love, it doesn’t matter how gifted they are, encourage it! Some people become really good at something quite easily, some develop talent through hours and hours of hard work. Both paths are equally good.
Don’t worry about whether your child will ever become really skilled at a particular talent or if they will eventually abandon the talent all together. We don’t encourage our children so we can create Picassos and Rembrandts, we encourage our children so we can grow up into human beings who know how to chase dreams, invest hours of hard work, and feel confident enough to try new things. (Among other reasons.)
Whether your children use their talents in their home, in their local church or community, or for the public at large, is irrelevant. Using your talents for God is using your talents for God, whether on a small scale or a big one.
It’s Not Just About Skills And Talents
I’ve been using talents as the example so far because this one is the easiest to see, but the same is true for other aspects of our children’s personalities and identities.
Whether your child is a social butterfly or a wall flower, talkative or shy, a book worm or a sports fan, humorous or serious.. all of these facets of your child’s personality are pieces of their identity that will shape who they are as adults and how they can serve God when they are older.
These are God-given personality traits, but we have the ability to help or hinder our children as they grow.
You never know how God will use your child because of (or in spite of) their different personality quirks.) For example, I’ve watched my middle child grow from a very stubborn and defiant two year old into the most passionate and fiercely loyal teenager, and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use that for His glory when she is older! But I’ll tell you that her determination didn’t look like such a blessing when she was a red-faced, angry little toddler.
Use Comparison Wisely
Comparison can be a useful tool. If we never check to see what is going on around us, we can become too full of ourselves. But we can use comparison to see where we fit into a particular puzzle. I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I can see where others are stronger at something than I am.
Comparison by itself, isn’t the problem.
We have to remember that the problem is putting too much weight how the OTHER person compares.
We can’t think less of ourselves because someone else is so much better, (or better of ourselves because someone is worse.) Really, the best person to compare ourselves to. . . is our past self. And this is what I tell my kids, both through the way I praise them and encourage them, and even directly when they start to fall into the bad comparison trap.
I ask my kids, “are you better at this skill/attitude/behavior than you used to be?”
Grow The Child
I’m not claiming to be a child psychologist, but I can tell you how feeling discouraged by my parents as a teenager in regard to my interest in singing, (and later from my husband as well,) negatively impacted my self-esteem as a singer for most of my adult life. It has only been in the past five years or so, as my husband began to encourage my participation on the worship team at church, that my fragile sense of confidence began to grow stronger.
I can also tell you how I have watched my 16 year old grow as an artist over the past ten years or so, after she first began to show an interest in drawing. I can show you how, though her first sketches were only “pretty good for a five year old,” she has grown tremendously in her skill and talent through much encouragement and practice.
I could also tell you about all of the things that my children have tried and abandoned. I want my kids to know that it’s okay to let things go to focus on other areas of interest and talent.
As parents, we need to remember that our main goal in this parenting gig is to GROW the child.
Nurture them, feed them, grow them up.
There are many paths and decisions we can take to get there: breastfeeding, bottle feeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, preschooling, homeschooling, public schooling, dating, no dating, and so much more. But all of these are means to one end: growing our little ones up successfully.
We need to get our kids to adulthood with the strength and skills that they will need to thrive as adults.
So whether we are nurturing self-esteem, talents, work ethic, obedience, or compassion, we are growing our kids to that end. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the end goal when I’m in a stand off with a strong-willed child, reassuring a self-conscious thirteen year old again, or listening to the 30th repetition of Twinkle Twinkle on the violin. But it’s remembering the end goal that reminds me to parent with grace, compassion, and encouragement.
Nurturing talents, and caution with comparison, are just two little pieces of parenting for good self-esteem, and I know that. I’m still working out all the ways that I can be a good mother for my daughter, to help her grow up strong and healthy (and turn out better than I did.)
For now, this is plenty for me to work on, a big enough challenge in and of itself. I’m sure more will reveal itself as we go on. I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well. Have you found this to be true for you?