Ever heard of the Sunday School song, “Don’t Build Your House On The Sandy Land”? It talks all about building a house on a solid rock foundation rather than too close to the sandy shore. Over-promoting self-esteem could be encouraging a child to build their personal self on a sandy shore. Instead, I offer “solid rock” suggestion – self-worth.
What’s self-worth based on? Actions and purpose in the world that make a difference. These don’t even have to be big, glorious actions to make a difference. Just bringing a smile to someone can be purposeful and make you feel good. You attribute your good feelings to your ability to make a difference for that person, which adds to your self-worth.
People of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds can do things to build their self-worth. And I don’t mean to suggest overpraising kids for each and every thing they do. See a previous post about that. I’m talking about genuine feedback from themselves or others to know that they have good purpose to their lives and in the world.
Find someone who feels like they have no real purpose and see how high their self-esteem is. Pretty low because they have little to reflect back on and see that they made an impact. Telling that person to cheer up and telling them to feel better about themselves will do little good. They need to take some form of action, however small, to begin building their self-worth.
Then, when the emotional storms come through their life, they can still reflect on times when they had good purpose and persistence. They made a difference before and they can do it again. They know it takes action and involvement in their life, not just reflecting on feelings or empty positive affirmations. It’s the difference between eating a banana smoothie or a banana split. Both taste sweet, but the banana smoothie will give your body much more nutrition than the banana split.
So rather than just focusing on self-esteem, help your child develop a strong sense of self-worth. Give them tasks that press them to be generous with their time and energy. Teach about doing chores as ways to make life good for everyone in the family. Involve the kids in finding things in your home to donate to charity – teach them how letting go of old clothes or toys will make another family’s life brighter. Give your kids a chance at higher levels of responsibility, such as mentoring in sports, school or church groups. Steer your kids towards activities and groups that seem to have a clear sense of purpose and teamwork.
When you talk with your kids about how they feel about themselves, their answer can change from minute to minute. But ask them about things that make them feel worthwhile and useful, and you might get a whole different answer. That’s how you know whether their personal self is built on a sandy shore or a rock foundation.