The value of building self-esteem
What if we understood that there is one thing in ministry that could change everything? One thing (apart from a relationship with Jesus) that determines a child’s future—who they will marry, the career they will have, how they will relate to their own children, even their ability to share their faith. That one thing is self-esteem.
Self-esteem is defined as a person’s evaluation of his/her own worth. A child who sees no value in himself will, most likely, grow into an adult who cannot see his worth. But, a child who knows and understands his value in Christ, is likely to grow into an adult who knows who Christ created him to be and can value his strengths and weaknesses.
In an ideal world, mom and dad would have a positive view of themselves and would, in turn, through their parenting pass this on to their kids. Moms and dads would work constantly to intentionally build positive self-esteem in their children. The problem is that we don’t do ministry in an ideal world. We deal with kids from homes that are broken, kids who watch mom and dad struggle with self-image issues. We minister to kids who are bombarded constantly with messages of not being able to measure up. While the world constantly tries to shove our kids into its mold by telling them they’ll never be good enough, we’ve got to counter this message and intentionally develop the self-esteem of our kids.
What does a kid with a poor self-image look like? Here are a few clues that with alert you to a child in your ministry who struggles with poor self-esteem.
- They struggle to maintain eye contact. You’ll see these kids often staring at the ground. Their eyes may dart around the room as you attempt to engage them in conversation.
- Kids who struggle with self-esteem issues are often the ones who are considered to have “behavioral problems.” They are crying out for attention and will try to get it by whatever means possible. As a result, they are often labeled as troublemakers, and we treat them as such.
- These kids often blend into the background during large group activities, hoping to go unnoticed. They do not volunteer for anything that will place your attention on them.
- These are the kids who, as they advance in age, have trouble saying “no” to peer pressure and will go to great lengths to achieve the acceptance and admiration of others.
Kids who possess a positive self-esteem are not afraid to speak their minds, are good at maintaining eye contact, and are often leaders among their peers. They are quick to volunteer in ministry settings and are often skilled in their approach to various opportunities.
How can we effectively impact this one thing in our limited weekly contact? Is it possible for us with our limited interactions each week to intentionally build the self-esteem of a child in our ministry? Absolutely! Consider these ways to focus on building a positive self-esteem in the kids in your ministry.
Physical touch. Kids need physical touch. It’s a proven fact that in order for a child to feel valued, he needs physical touch. While we are all aware of the issues related to the dangers of harmful physical touch in ministry, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Physical touch is a necessary piece of developing into a person who knows and understands his value. A pat on the back, a quick hug, or even a high-five says to a kid that they’re valued. Author and family therapist Virginia Satir says that a person needs four hugs per day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve to grow. Not easy in a ministry setting, but perhaps we could make it our goal to interact in this way at least once per week with each child. How about a high-five on the way into the kids’ service or a pat on the back on the way out as you bless each child? Your physical touch may be like a downpour in the life of a child experiencing a drought in this area.
Set kids up for success. No one likes to fail. Intentionally pour into kids who are struggling. Look for the preteen boy who does not appear engaged. Does he have tech skills that you could use in your ministry? Imagine the fire you could light in one of these kids when you say to them, “I need you on my team” or “You’re valuable.” Design ministry teams around kids who need to be needed. Use them as greeters, ushers, tech crew, and worship leaders. A child who feels a part of a team will begin to believe he’s worthy of being used and has value.
Eye contact. This may seem like a no-brainer, but on a Sunday morning when you’re running around trying to get everything prepped and ready for a service, you have a volunteer who didn’t show or your computer won’t work, it’s hard to remember that eye contact is critical. Eye contact says, “I matter” and “You’re more important to me than the chaos that ensues at the moment.” Get down on your knees and maintain eye contact to really show value to the child. The message a child takes away when you set ministry woes aside and pause to really focus on them is that they matter to you.
Invest in them individually. Send them a card on their birthday with a coupon enclosed for a free ice cream trip out with you. An uninterrupted hour with their pastor or leader really sends a powerful message to a child. “You are worthy of my time and resources. You are important to me.” What a message! Send them a Facebook message or email and follow up with a discussion that you may have started in a small group. Nothing says “I matter” like having someone join you as you delve into personal matters of importance.
Watch what you say. Kids with poor self-esteem are often very sensitive to what they perceive to be negative or hurtful comments, even ones made in jest. Paul says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Look for those kids who have this need to be built up. Guard your mouth and choose your words very carefully.
Speak to who they are, not what they do. So much of the time we’re tempted to talk with kids about their ballgames, their recitals, or their accomplishments. If we help them identify that they are much more than what they do, we are building a lifelong trait that will make a difference in their future. Teach kids to identify and articulate areas in their own lives such as honesty, integrity, or loyalty and discuss how they are strong or gifted in those areas. In a world where competition is king, we combat this mindset by teaching them to value who God created them to be. A child in your ministry should know that he is important to you because of who he is, not what he does. The game he lost this week, the less than ideal report card, or the fact that she messed up during the piano recital doesn’t matter to you.
Resource parents. Many of our parents are so busy running the family taxicab or working crazy hours to pay for all of the extra-curricular activities that kids are involved in that they often fail to realize that this one area could benefit the life of their child for years to come. Give parents tips and ideas on how to focus on their children and how to intentionally work to develop a positive self-image. Teach parents the dangers of raising kids who do not have a positive self-esteem. There is too much riding on this to assume that raising a child with a positive self-worth will happen on its own.
Teach biblical truths about who kids are in Christ. Psalm 139:14 says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Use scripture to teach kids how valuable they are to the Creator.
If we could truly understand the significance of raising a child with a positive self-esteem and realize the ramifications in the life of a future adult when we don’t, we could then begin to intentionally look for kids in our ministry to develop. If we were able to get past all of the other things in ministry and focus on this one thing, we would literally impact generations of people to come. Now that’s what I call a return on your investment.
Use VBS to Build Self-Esteem
- Each time a child makes eye contact with you, burst into a big smile.
- Become a partner to any child who gravitates to the sidelines.
- Come up with a group handshake and use it to celebrate correct answers, crossing the finish line, good manners or any little success.
- Give each child in your group a unique responsibility and thank them every single time they carry it out.
- Encourage the kids in your group to make statements to one another that intentionally build up another person.
- Make positive comments to parents when the child can hear.