HOW TO GIVE YOUR CHILD A HEALTHY SELF-IMAGE
By Richard (Dick) Innes
If I were to give you nine compliments and one harsh criticism, which of the ten comments would you probably remember me for—for the rest of your life if we were close friends? And when we give our children more criticisms than compliments and words of encouragement and praise, which are they going to remember the longest? Undoubtedly the criticisms.
It’s primarily what we, the parents, program into our child’s memory bank that shapes his or her self-concept which is how he perceives himself. This also includes his/her self-image and self-esteem—how the child sees and feels about him/herself. A healthy self-concept and self-image is so vital for the development of a healthy personality, we simply cannot overemphasize its importance. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
In her book Your Child’s Self-Esteem, Dorothy Corkille Briggs, educator and child counselor, says: “High self-esteem is not a noisy conceit. It is a quiet sense of self-respect, a feeling of self worth.
“Your child’s judgment of himself influences the kinds of friends he chooses, how he gets along with others, the kind of person he marries, and how productive he will be. It effects his creativity, integrity, stability, and even whether he will be a leader or a follower. His feelings of self-worth form the core of his personality and determine the use he makes of his aptitudes and abilities. His attitude toward himself has a direct bearing on how he lives all parts of his life. In fact, self-esteem is the mainspring that slants every child for success or failure as a human being.”1
“Self-esteem is the mainspring
that slants every child for success
or failure as a human being.”
In other words, if children like and believe in themselves, they will naturally accept that others like them and believe in them too. If they don’t like and believe in themselves, they will be convinced that others don’t like them or believe in them either.
Take Billy, for example, an unwanted child who was starved for love and affection. No matter what others did for him, he interpreted their actions on the basis of his low self-esteem. If people gave him compliments, he felt they were insincere. If they expressed kindness he was suspicious. Consequently, Billy withdrew from any close contact with people and was headed for greater problems in later life.
Another child in the same situation might act very aggressively. This is because children who feel rejected may despise their parents as much as themselves. Unable to express their anger towards their parents for fear of further rejection, they bully other children instead. In later life, they may beat their spouse or take their hostility out on their children.
Dorothy Briggs also says that “Dropouts, delinquents, and dope users privately believe they are hopelessly inadequate and worthless.”2 But for the child with a healthy self-image it is highly unlikely that he or she will ever become a problem child—or a problem adult.
If positive behavior, wholesome relationships, achievement, and happiness have their roots in a healthy self-image, how can we ensure that our children develop this important part of their personality?
First. Parents need to accept responsibility for their children’s self-esteem. As one person stated, “Your child’s self is a gift from God, but his or her self-image is in your hands.”
Second. Realize that self-esteem is a learned concept. It is learned from the important people in the child’s early life, such as teachers, peers and family—but mostly from the parents.
The child’s family is an emotional mirror that reflects the attitudes and feelings that the significant people in his life (especially mom and dad) have towards him. This, as much as anything, helps shape the child’s self-concept.
If children see and are made to feel loved, wanted, and of true worth, they will learn to feel good about themselves. If parents spend lots of quality time with them, do things as a family, give them the attention, approval and compliments that they need, show and tell them often that they are loved, and genuinely believe in them, the children will learn to love and believe in themselves too.
But if they are continually criticized, nagged, put-down, teased, unfavorably compared to other children, rejected, smothered, punished severely, over-controlled, or just neglected by not receiving sufficient attention, unconditional love and affirmation, they will come to believe that they are of little worth to anyone.
Third. Self-esteem is caught as well as taught. Therefore, another effective way to give a child a healthy self-image is to have a healthy self-image yourself. If you love and accept yourself in a healthy way, it will be natural for you to love and accept your children the same way. If you don’t like yourself, it is nigh on impossible to teach your children to like themselves. Unfortunately, we raise not the children we want but the children that we the parents are.
Fourth. If a child already has a poor self-concept, parents can help change it for the better. Given lots of unconditional love and acceptance, and being freed from any critical attitude, a child will respond beautifully. To do this, as already noted, the parent needs to resolve his own issues and work on improving his own self-concept. The fact is that we can only give what we have received for ourselves. In other words, we cannot give what we haven’t got.
“Another effective way to
give a child a healthy
self-image is to have a
healthy self-image yourself.”
Resolve resentment. If a child has been hurt deeply by anyone, especially if he or she has been abused or neglected, professional counseling may be needed to help the child work through the resulting emotions of fear, hurt, guilt, shame, and/or anger. Without resolving these deep damaged emotions, a child doesn’t have a chance of having a healthy self-concept.
Discover God’s love. The most effective way to help give a child a healthy self-image is through communicating God’s love to him/her.
We need to teach our children that no matter how insignificant they feel or what they have ever done or have failed to do, God loves them unconditionally and accepts them totally just as they are in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Pray for your children every day. Pray with them every day. In your prayers with them thank God that he loves them just as they are and ask him to help them to love and accept themselves just as he loves and accepts them. Make sure you love them in the same way too!
Repeating positive affirmations that are true can also be helpful such as the following example: “Because you love and accept me, God, I love and accept me.” Print it on a card. Tape it to the front of the refrigerator and on your/their bathroom mirror. Speak it out loud every day.
Most important of all, don’t tell your children the way to find God and experience his love. Show them by coming to him yourself and experiencing his divine love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Modeling is the most effective way we teach our children anything.
1. Your Child’s Self-Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs, page 3.
2. Ibid, page 25.