The more I write about families and marriage, teach future teachers about teaching, and struggle with being the mother of two small children, the more I am convinced the Scriptures are more on target about relationships than any Ph.D. or talk-show host could ever be.
Self-esteem is a building block of confident, committed families. However, self-esteem is not built with empty promises and fancy toys, but with love, physical warmth and closeness, and carefully chosen words.
Why are words so important? Why should parents choose their words with care? Consider a few teachings on self-esteem found in Proverbs.
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21).
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Prov. 15:4).
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22).
The sound of those words, “a crushed spirit” (17:22) makes me sad. I think about the broken hearts of the children I have taught; children my student teachers at the college cry over; children I see at the grocery store, playground, and yes, in my own church.
In our headstrong race for career success and in our self-centered focus on being trim, popular, and powerful, we inevitably take down some innocent victims. Too often those innocents are our own children. Our careless words, benign neglect, and lack of time for children may seem harmless at the time; but over weeks, months, and years, the results are broken spirits, and often broken families.
Words and making time for children are important. But what about physical affection such as hugs, pats, holding, snuggling? They are more important than you may know. The results of a 36-year study conducted by three Boston social psychologists is provoking. They began the study in 1951 when the children were five years old and followed up in 1987 when the original children were 41 years old. The most important finding was that children who had affectionate parents grew into better adjusted adults than those who didn’t. Specifically, adults whose parents had kissed and cuddled them when they were children tended to have long and happy marriages, be parents themselves, and have strong friendships outside of marriage. Also, these adults reported “more zest for life and less psychological strain than their peers who were not blessed with affectionate parents.”
Building self-esteem is both a biblical and a developmental priority for parents, but it is not always easy to do. Parents get tired, cranky, and depressed too. Maybe you need encouragement. Clip these “Ten Tips for Self-Esteem” and keep them in your wallet, on your refrigerator, or on your desk. They helped me.
This morning, as I struggled to finish this article, my five-year-old daughter, Audrey, became clingy and upset. My first reaction was to tell her I needed to finish this work and that I would spend time with her later. But what does that mean to a five-year-old, and what does that say about my attitude? So Audrey spent the next 20 minutes in my lap “helping” compose these words of wisdom.
Is it easy? Not always. Am I perfect or should you expect to be? Not a chance! But we are blessed by the Lord in our work as parents. Remember these words if you don’t remember any of the 10 tips below: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
Ten Tips for Building Children’s Self-Esteem
S Set realistic, age-appropriate expectations for behavior.
E Encourage every small success.
L Love the child just for himself.
F Focus on the positive.
E Exercise restraint with loud tones and angry words.
S Say something nice about your child daily.
T Try to be consistent with your discipline.
E Enter each day with a hug and a smile.
E End each day with a hug and a smile.
M Make your family your number-one priority.