My 8-year old son says that he doesn’t like himself and is constantly putting himself down.
- Ask God to help you appreciate the uniqueness of your son and to be aware of his real needs.
- On a daily basis tell him that you love him. Nothing defends against the attacks of toxic shame like the security a child receives from the love and acceptance of his or her parents. When our children know that we love and appreciate them for what they are, and when they know that we respect their feelings, differences and peculiarities, they are free to grow into the unique men and women God intended for them to become.
- Affirm him several times a day. Let him know he is of infinite worth and value and is precious to you. In 1 Corinthians 13:7 we read that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.” At times this will be easier said than done, especially if you try to do it in your own strength. The Bible commands us to love one another, build one another, nourish one another, cherish one another and encourage one another. Each week pick one of the “one another’s” and ask God for creative ways to model this for each child.
- Give him quality time. This can be especially powerful after he has made a mistake or done something wrong. Intentionally spending time with them lets them know that your love is, like Christ’s love, unconditional. This tells him that even when he makes mistakes, he is significant, he is of value and worth.
- Don’t use guilt-inducing techniques as a way to get them to do what you want. Making fun of our children or attempting to shame them out of their emotions is an unhealthy and destructive practice. We can demoralize our children when we say things like: “What are you crying for? I can’t believe you’re such a baby about this,” “All the other kids are having a good time. Why are you being so difficult?”, or “Jeff isn’t afraid. What makes you such a scaredy-cat?” Shaming is humiliating and makes children feel doubtful, inferior and inadequate. It doesn’t cause them to respond positively or make them feel better.
- Be quick to forgive your children. Sometimes it is easy for a parent to hold a grudge against a child, especially if something the child has done has made you look bad in the eyes of others. If you are a parent, you know exactly what I am talking about.
- Be aware of your verbal and non-verbal communication. I’ve read many books that talk about the damaging effects of physical punishment. In an effort to influence and control their children’s behavior, some parents withdraw their love, attention, approval and affection. They speak to their children in a sarcastic and demeaning tone of voice. They have moved from physically punishing their children to degrading and humiliating them.
- Remember that you are dealing with children. The younger they are, the more limited is their capacity to understand abstract concepts like emotions. However, their emotions are very real and valid to them. They don’t understand them, but they know that they feel good or they feel bad. Remember that there are no right or wrong emotions. Children can’t always help what they feel, nor can they change their emotions on command.