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Are You Instilling Biblical or Worldly Self-Esteem into Your Kids' Hearts?

Are You Instilling Biblical or Worldly Self-Esteem into Your Kids' Hearts?

I can't think of self-esteem and not immediately be drawn back to those Saturday Night Live sketches with Al Franken's Stuart Smalley character and his “Daily Affirmations.” 

In this mock self-help show, Stuart, in his trademark baby blue cardigan, would give advice and end each show by looking in the mirror and reminding himself and those watching that "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." (If you don't remember it, check out this classic clip featuring guest Michael Jordan here).

When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, the “Self-Esteem Movement” was in its prime 

The popular belief was that if a child had high self-esteem, he or she would have a greater chance at being successful--whatever that means. Many parents heaped praise on their children, and teachers taught children to believe they were special.

I know what you are probably thinking, “That sounds great! What's wrong with that?”

The Problem with Worldly Self-Esteem

The problem can be exemplified by watching the early days of American Idol. I recall watching the auditions, and being amazed as adoring moms and dads stood in the wings while their daughters belted the worst version of a Whitney Houston song you've ever heard.

Simon Cowell, and everyone in America, agreed that this individual was never going to be a singer and in fact, couldn't sing at all.

Yet, Mom and Dad were adamant about their child's talent. The lesson: building self-esteem isn't always helpful in the long run. 

And, it doesn't seem to be what God desires for our lives either.

I survived the “movement” thanks to a steady dose of reality and Godly parents who helped me along the way. I remember the first major blow to my self-esteem in middle school.

I had grown up playing baseball my whole life, so of course, I was excited to try out for the middle school team. My brother was an excellent athlete, and he had played on the team a few years prior for the same coach.

It never occurred to me that I might not have the same opportunity. Well, when the names of those chosen were posted, I wasn't on the list. I was devastated.

Reality set in that I just wasn't as good as many of the other kids at baseball. And, I wasn't as good as my brother was. I remember my parents encouraging me by reminding me that nothing in life is given.

You have to work at it to get better and you can try again later if it's something you really want to do.

What they didn't do was complain about the process, call the school, fuss at the coach or ridicule the other kids.

Subtly, they were teaching me how to avoid acting entitled. As a result, I've always had a strong work ethic.

As a parent now, I think a lot about walking that line of helping my children to feel strong and confident while keeping them from developing pride and arrogance.

The Difference Between Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

So, how do you instill Biblical self-esteem into your children's hearts?

As a starting point, I think we need cast aside the concept of self-esteem altogether. As I read through the Scriptures, the idea of esteeming one's self seems to be the opposite of what Jesus teaches.

After all, blessed are the “poor in spirit,” “meek,” “merciful,” “pure in heart” and “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:2-9). 

What would you say to the concept of “self-worth?” Some use these ideas interchangeably. But, I don’t believe that is correct.

When I think of self-esteem, I think of admiration for my own capabilities. It’s building up myself and putting my faith where it doesn’t belong--on my own abilities.

However, self-worth is the acknowledgment of God as my creator and sustainer.

It’s realizing I have value because of God. He gave me certain abilities and opportunities in this world for His good purpose: to help others and bring Him glory.

In today’s world, I think it’s important to help our children make this distinction.

Here are a few things we need to teach our children if we want them to have the kind of self-worth God calls us to have.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Gabriel Baranski

1. Teach them to value what God says over what others say.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14)

When you are young and impressionable, it’s easy to say you care more about what God says about you than others say. It’s much harder to believe it.

Let’s face it, even adults have a hard time with this one. 

God knew us before he laid the foundations of the earth. He formed our inward parts and knitted us together. But, he didn’t only make us, He loves us and values us as the individuals we are.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).

These words from Jesus are a reminder to us--that God knows us intimately and loves us unconditionally.

If we listen and absorb these words daily, the voices from others on the outside have less of an impact. As parents, we can be God’s messengers as we speak these truths to our children regularly.

2. Teach them to have the compassion of Christ for others, but also for themselves.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

As the saying goes, “There was only one perfect man who ever lived, and they crucified him.”

None of us is perfect. We all fall short. We all have flaws.

When you are scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, you aren’t seeing it all. Those are not perfect lives you are seeing. Those folks have problems just like you do.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-11). 

We have to learn to see our weaknesses as opportunities for the grace and mercy of God to be on display. When we are weak, He is given the opportunity to show the world His strength.

Having compassion for ourselves means giving our weaknesses to God and letting Him go to work. When we see ourselves as tools ready to be used by the Master Builder, it’s easier to have compassion on others and view them in the same light.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/MI PHAM

3. Teach them to seek to lift up others more than they elevate themselves.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

It’s pretty simple why we all exist. It’s to glorify God and to help others to glorify Him.

This verse in Philippians has always held a special place in my heart. And yet, despite my familiarity and understanding of this passage, I still find myself having to keep my motives in check.

I’ll post something online and monitor it to see how many clicks or likes it gets. And why? Is it because I truly want the content to be a benefit to others, or is it that I want to feel better about the success of my work.

Many of us battle against our own selfish motives from time to time. 

The Bible teaches us to redirect our focus; to stop looking at ourselves and to look for opportunities to serve others.

We have no better example than Jesus, who stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet the night before laying down His life for us.

The best thing we can do for our children is to help them have a vision for serving other people. If you are focused on others, you don’t have time to worry about lifting up yourself.

Having an “others focus” helps our children see their peers as God sees them--individuals each with their own gifts and talents. And, we as parents can remind them that there’s no greater blessing than being a blessing to someone else.

4. Teach them to have gratitude, not an attitude.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

One of the easiest ways to recognize your own worth is to let your heart overflow with gratitude. Most of us are blessed beyond measure.

I love the old hymn I grew up singing in church, “Count Your Blessings.” The first verse says “When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

We seem to battle our daughter on this constantly.

Some of it is probably normal for a 10-year-old. We strive to encourage her to have a thankful heart, but she struggles with contentment from time to time.

But, while encouraging her to “count her blessings,” I often find myself convicted when I have times when I struggle with discontentment. The good news is that God promised he can give us the strength to be content (Philippians 4:11-13).

The best thing we can do to reestablish a Biblical sense of self-worth with our children (and ourselves) is to sit down and take inventory of how much God loves us and has blessed us.

It’s important to focus your child’s thoughts away from physical blessings, as much as possible. Things like food, clothing and a home are important (as easy for young minds to see), but highlighting those too frequently can tie God’s favor to our works.

Instead, encourage them to think about spiritual blessings. Through God’s love for us as individuals, He gave us Jesus. He gave us His Spirit. He gave us His Word so we can know Him. He gave us the opportunity to serve.

He gave us each gifts that we can use to make a difference. 

It’s impossible to get up from a session like that and not believe you are special in God’s eyes.

At the end of the day, the knowledge of that fact is one of the most important gifts we can give our children. 

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He writes about parenting, marriage and faith at You can also follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/iammotos

Brent Rinehart is a public relations practitioner and freelance writer. He blogs about the amazing things parenting teaches us about life, work, faith and more at You can also follow him on Twitter at @brentrinehart