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I didn’t always know that I couldn’t sing. I used to belt out “Big Rock Candy Mountain” for anyone who would listen. I had two solo parts in my sisters and daddy’s version of “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life,” and once as a youth I sang in a group that travelled to a nearby town for a conference. Afterwards, amidst several compliments, one gentleman said he had loved my enthusiasm and would love to have several young women like me in his congregation.

It wasn’t until college that I began to suspect that my desire did not compensate for a lack of ability. I was asked to sing in a quartet and was given the alto part. After one practice the quartet became a quintet with two altos. 🙂

The good thing was that by this time I had confidence in other areas and was not devastated that the world did not appreciate that I sang like my granddad. (His repertoire consisted of “Somebody Stole my Yellow Dog,” and “Blood on the Saddle”—both rendered with less than 5 notes.)

Too often people try to build a child’s self-esteem with blanket, unearned praise. This leads to a tearful child the moment someone identifies something negative about them. You can’t protect your child from that, but you can prepare them to handle those moments. A child’s self worth does not have to be a precarious thing that we guard like a mother lioness. A child who has gained confidence from accomplishment and the knowledge of who they are does not flinch from a critic’s fiery darts.

5 Basics:

1. The best confidence comes from knowing they are children of God, who loves them. Second to this is the unconditional love of a parent that accepts and cherishes them for who they are. Tell them, “You are my beloved child, I am so grateful to have you part of my life.” Without a parent’s approval, children can become withdrawn and unsure of themselves.

Let your children know they are a priority. Have them help you make supper and ask about their day. When you are in the car with them, talk to them. The little daily moments add up.

2. A wonderful way to build a sense of self-worth is to help them accomplish something that made them stretch. Such as learning times tables, memorizing lines to a play, learning to load the dishwasher correctly. While they are learning a new task, take time to do it with them, showing them how to do it well, and then let them know you appreciate it when they do. Be specific: “I like how you took time to wipe down the faucets of the sink.”

3. Allow your child to make age appropriate decisions for themselves. Give young ones options to choose between. “Which book do you want to read tonight?” Giving choices will also minimize power struggles. For example, ask your child if she would like to be reminded five or ten minutes before bedtime to get ready for bed. These beginning choices help to set the foundation for a feeling of control over their life.

Teach them how to make bigger decisions as they get older. I visited a lady many years ago who told of how her son had decided not to go to a friend’s special event at the last minute. The lure of playing with another friend had distracted him. She asked him if he had prayed that this new choice was the right one. He went back up to his room and about five minutes later returned in his Sunday clothes. He explained, “I prayed about it mom, and I want to go to the [special event].”

4. Do not give your child negative labels, like: “The clumsy one.” Conversely, saying that a sibling is “The one who sings,” may cause another child to feel like they can’t. While finding and showcasing the strengths of each child, remind them that they each have many talents and abilities.

5. Involve your children in giving service. Think how good you feel after you have helped someone else. Create those moments for your children too.