Why I won’t push my children’s self-confidence and what I nurture instead
As a mother, I want my children to be confident in who they are. I see part of successful parenting in having children that have identity, that they are solidly rooted in life, with confidence and security.
However, I don’t want children with inflated egos. I don’t want children that explode at the slightest provocation, because someone didn’t do something the way they wanted it. I don’t want to raise arrogant children, who are full of themselves.
As a Christian mother, there is an additional point entering the scene: I want them to learn that their worth, their self-esteem is based in God. That their worth and their confidence should not be based on themselves but in whom they are in God, on what Jesus did when he died for us on the cross.
That’s a central part of Christianity.
And it is this central part most of us Christian adults are struggling to grasp for our own life.
So to say, many of us don’t have either self-confidence or self-esteem nor are able grasp the truth of their worth and the confidence they can have in Christ.
How can we preserve our children from that dilemma?
I’ve read several Christian blogs and even books, filled with theological reasons of why it is wrong to help your child to self- esteem and self- confidence. That we need to teach them, that their worth and confidence is only in God.
Those parents are concerned that their children will become inflated and arrogant by affirming them too much. They will try to keep their child “humble”, focusing on the child’s submission to their parenting, ignoring many of his/her own needs, considering these needs as their selfish wish or wanting.
Reading all these blogs and books, I didn’t agree with their interpretation of that subject. However, I wasn’t sure how to put my thoughts into words.
While I recently was reading the famous book from Jesper Juul “your competent child”, it hit me. Chapter 3 of his book is called “Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence”. Reading that chapter I had one of those “Aha” moments, when I could suddenly put words on what we have been trying to implement into our children. Suddenly, I had a proper explanation on the matter.
In this article, I want to share with you, what I understood about this matter and relate to the content of that third chapter of his book:
“Self-esteem is our knowledge about and experience of who we are.
It addresses the question of how well we know ourselves and how we look upon what we know. In the words of Wikipedia: “Self-esteem reflects an individual’s overall subjective, emotional evaluation of his or her own worth”. People with a healthy self-esteem feel: “I am all right, and I am of value, because I exist.”
.Self-confidence is the measure of what we are capable of – what we are good and clever at, or awkward and inefficient at doing. It refers to what we can do, our capacity of achievement. It is an external quality.
People with a high self-confidence can have an attitude that is very self-promoting. However, if this confidence is not backed up with self-esteem, such an attitude can evaporate at the moment this person’s ability to perform is removed.
Put in practical terms; let’s say a child wants to learn the art of bowling. Imagine that child tries to bring down all nine pins but barely gets the bowling ball onto the bowling lane. A child with a good self-esteem will be open to learn, open to try some more. If there is no improvement in his/her capacity, the child will probably be disappointed or even sad. However, this experience will not provoke a feeling of failure or attack on his/her worth. A child with low self-esteem however, (no matter how inflated the self-confidence of such a child might be in other areas of his/her life) will react much more dramatic: “I am not good at anything!” “I am so stupid”! That feeling of failure, of being wrong and being a fiasco will appear.
It much rather has to do with a sense of value. It has to do with the relaxed feeling of “I am all right, and I am of value, because I exist.”
To nurture this sense of worth and value in a child is one of the greatest gift you can give to your child. There is no way one could implement too much self-esteem into a child’s life.
- How can we as parents nurture our child’s self-esteem?
- How can we as parents nurture this worth?
- How can we achieve this without them getting cocky?
First and foremost, we nurture our child’s self-esteem by who we are.
As parents, we will be imitated by our children. If we have a healthy self esteem, our children will most likely become children with a healthy self esteem.
Most of us know instinctively that we’re a long way from being able to say “I know who I am made to be” or “I am valuable, simply because I exist”. For example, parents will definitely feel that way about their newborn, sleeping in their arms.
But the good news is that all of us parents are on a journey. And as parents, we can take our children onto that journey as well. We can join them into the process of growing in this self-esteem, this sense of worth. This can be a challenging way to go, but as Christian parents we have the privilege to have access to an ultimate authority, an ultimate truth: The word of God.
That being said, let’s now see, how we can implement this self-esteem into a child’s life – without confounding it by pushing its self-confidence instead.
Imagine your toddler, climbing on a tree.
This toddler shouts: mommy, look!
Our (or at least my) natural tendency is to eagerly affirm my child.
So we will shout back: “Wow, you climbed this high, you are so clever, amazing!”
But by doing this, we incontinently connect the value of our child with “achievement”, instead of “being” . But you know what?
A child wants to be seen. Not evaluated.
A simple: “Hey honey, I see you!” – And if you see the face of your child and can read the emotions, you could add: “I see you have fun being up there!”
Or imagine your four year old, running to you just as you’re coming home from work.
The child has been drawing while it waited for your homecoming.
Happily, she or he shows you the drawing.
Many of us (me included) will say: Wow, what a nice drawing, good job! You always get better, I am so proud of you!
Well… we did it again. We’ve just evaluated the child’s drawing. But the child didn’t run to you to get an evaluation of what it did. It was his way of telling “Mommy, you’re back!! I love you!!!”
What can we do instead?
We can tell the Child: “I missed you too, I am happy to be back with you! Hey, you’ve beendrawing? Are you going to explain to me what you painted?”
Or something like that.
Let’s take as an example something that happened in our home last week, between me and my husband.
He loves to mix beer and lemonade. It’s called “Panaché” or in German “Radler”(biker) and he finds it delicious during the hot summer days.
Usually, he is the one who buys the beer and lemonade for himself.
But that day, I was shopping and bought him these two components, as I saw that there was none left at home.
In the evening, I mixed him a Panaché and brought it to him as he came home from work.
He was happy, he loved it. However, talking about evaluating what children do, he could have reacted in two different ways:
A.) Oh, thank you! Where did you buy it? What’s the brand of the beer? What kind of Lemonade did you buy? How much of them did you mix? Mmmmh… the taste is good, you did a great job, thank you! (He would have evaluated my capacity to mix him a good Panaché)
B.) Oh, you thought of buying me the ingredients for a Panaché! Thank you for your love and thoughtfulness! You are such a blessing to me!! – Hugging me and cheering me for my act of love towards him.
In those little things, we can learn to transmit a very different message, based on relationship, based on connection and based on valuating who the other is – and how much we appreciate him/her.
I will close with a story I found in that very same chapter of the book:
John, thirty eight, a former national soccer champion now was an alcoholic in treatment for his condition.
He was encouraged to start a soccer training program for young people.
He rejects the idea, and digging a little more into the “why” of him not wanting to do it, he explains:
“When I stopped being an active athlete, I felt as if people only appreciated me because of what I could do – not because of what I am (…)”
As a boy, he’d been encouraged by both his parents and teacher to take up soccer because he seemed to lack self-confidence. When his special talent for the sport emerged, they did everything they could to support and develop it. They attended training, they involved themselves in his club, and spent most weekends as spectators. When he began to appear in the media and secured a professional contract aboard, they shared in his pleasure (…)
His parents overlooked an essential quality of John’s: His low sense of self-esteem. Like most other children (and adults) John could express his low self-esteem only as uncertainty in relation to action. As a child he had often said things like: “I can’t do that”, I can’t figure that out”, or “That’s too difficult”. He was unable to say: “I don’t think I am any good!”
As an athlete John was unique (…)
Low self esteem manifests itself in a great variety of ways: fear of failure, boasting, fear of life, self effacement, boundlessness, defeatism, pompousness, feeling of guilt, use of abusive substances, violent behavior, digestive complaints, and so forth.
I want to grow in my own self-esteem. I want to be consciously on this journey to grow into my identity. My ultimate truth, my ultimate authority is the word of God. Therefore, I will continue to dig into it to understand who I am, what I am called to be.
I want to grow on that journey, to be able to transmit a healthy self esteem to my children. A solid ground for them to stand in life. No matter what they will become. They may or may not become famous. They may or may not be internationally recognized for what they will do.
My job as parent is to see them, to valuate them, to learn how to effectively implement their worth and value deep into their lives.