Raising kids to know who they are is no small task, especially when many of us still question our own identities. When my kids were little, I attempted to raise self-actualized children by:
- Shielding them from failure and rejection.
- Helping them find comfort in large quantities of caffeine and sugary goodness.
- Cursing their bodies for not looking photo shopped.
- Making sure everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) liked them.
- Driving them to perform, be the best and settle for nothing less than perfection.
Oh, wait. These are the cruel things I do to myself to foster some semblance of self-worth and identity. I would be a terrible mother if I pushed these standards on my children, right?
Self-worth – truly knowing who we are – cannot be found in performance, approval, appearance or perfectionism.
Raising kids to know who they are means we need to ditch these crazy standards we call normal, and choose wellness. Our clothing sizes, our successes, our failures, our relationships, our kid’s behaviors, our careers – none of these things define us.
For me, being a child of God is what defines me. It doesn’t mean that success and relationships don’t impact my life, it just means they don’t define me. I still want people to like me, but if they don’t, I am still defined by his love, and I want my kids to know this love as well.
How do we teach healthy identity to our kids?
1. Live healthy in front of your kids.
Need help? One of my FAVORITE books regarding self-worth is Search for Significance by Robert McGee. It comes in book and workbook form, so read it by yourself or grab some girlfriends and go through the workbook together.
2. Build identity through healthy family traditions.
Healthy traditions are the things that make your family unique. Some of our traditions are:
- Leverts eat ice cream every day of vacation.
- Leverts eat dinner at the table with the TV off. (This got better when my kids got older; the toddler years were a train wreck. Hang in there and be brave).
- Leverts ask, “What was the best part of your day?” every night at the dinner table.
- Leverts raise their hands – rollercoaster-style – every time their plane lands (Southwest thinks this is funny . . . Delta, not so much).
- Leverts dance wildly during movie credits.
- Leverts never miss a parade.
- Leverts are the first ones on the dance floor.
- Leverts never turn down seconds.
What are your family traditions? Don’t overthink it. Healthy traditions don’t have to be Pinterest-worthy, they just need to be part of your life.
3. Prioritize character over performance.
A healthy self-worth is rooted in who your kids are, and not in what your kids do. You probably know your kid is strong or compassionate or giving or tender or delightfully mischievous (just like her daddy), but does your child know? A great way to help a child discover who they are is to shine light on their unique character.
4. Help your kids find their “spark.”
What interests and activities engage your kids the most? (Notice I did not ask what they were good at). Researchers at The Search Institute have discovered that helping a child identify their “spark” or interest is one of the keys to helping them develop a healthy identity. To learn more about sparks, read Peter Benson’s fantastic book, Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers. (I realize this book was written for parents of teens, but it’s never too soon to help a kid find their spark.)
All kids have value. All kids have worth. Helping kids know their value and worth is part of the fun of being a mom. So be brave. The search for your kid’s significance begins with you.
Tasha Levert, Ph.D., is a licensed professional counselor in New Orleans who provides face-to-face and online care. She is a conference speaker, worship leader and the author of