Children express needs differently than adults. As adults we have refined skills, for better or worse, as to how to get our needs met. Most of those skills involve saying what we need in one way or another. Children just don’t have the self-awareness that comes with maturity and they don’t have the words to say what they feel and what they need. It is up to us to delve into their world and their heart and to interpret their needs in the way they are expressed. Often this expression comes in the form of behaviors. Over the past two weeks I have discussed two of the basic emotional needs children have (as so well presented by Dr. Bruce Narramore in his book, “Help! I’m a Parent.”) Now let’s talk about the third of the four basic emotional needs a child has and what happens when that particular need is not met.
Worth … Value … Dignity
Deep inside each of us lives the innate cry to know we matter.
In Psalm 139 God shows us that He carefully created each one of us, personally, specifically:
For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
In Psalm 8 God shows us He has esteemed us greatly:
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet.
In Zephaniah 3 God shows His delight and love for us:
The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
Greater than all of these facts is the overwhelming fact of history — the central event of all time — Jesus, God Himself in the flesh, went to the Cross for each and every person. He esteemed us enough to come, humble Himself and go to the cross. Oh, the worth of each person!: Made in the Image of God, Molded by the Hand of God, Measured by the Love of God and Meant for the Delight of God. Worth!
We were designed to know this worth and to live from it. God gave us to be born into families and one of the key functions of the family is to foster this sense of worth in our children. Several key factors contribute to the development of a sense of worth in our children. When we truly value our children and treat them with love and respect, they sense that they are valuable. Later in their lives they will easily transfer this to a belief that God values them.
We may fear that building our children up or filling this tank of “worth” will make them arrogant or self-centered. Believe it or not, this sense of value is a great bedrock for true humility. When Jesus humbled Himself (see Philippians 2) He did so out of the fullness of His being. He was secure in His relationship in the Godhead and in His essence. He could humble Himself based on His true value and His innate knowledge of that value. Insecure people can not be humble. They are constantly looking for a filling of what is empty and that makes them innately selfish and self-concerned. They may feign humility, but they just aren’t full enough of their own worth to be humble.
What happens when a child is constantly shamed instead of being built up, when mistakes are highlighted, when names are called, when they are demeaned, belittled, put down or worse? A child who is not affirmed in their value often feels worthless, guilty and depressed. To compensate for these feelings of insecurity and worthlessness, the child usually makes an internal, unconscious decision to be perfect. They expect their behavior to make up for what they feel is lacking in their essence. They have gotten the message that in the core, they lack value. That false belief causes pain which makes them clamor for a sense of value and they settle for being valued for doing well instead of just resting in the value already given them by God.
You see, worth isn’t dependent upon behavior. Go back and read those scriptures. Not one of them lists a “to do” or “how to act in order to qualify” list. The love of God and our innate worth just ARE.
Children who are constantly examined for their behavior and who feel accepted for doing good things and rejected for doing wrong end up with feelings of worthlessness. They know in their heart that they are sinners. They know what the Apostle Paul expressed so clearly, “The wrong I don’t want to do, I do; and the right I want to do, I cannot.” They feel worthless for being unable to live up to standards and they compensate with perfectionism.
|Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons|
Often, later on, as these children age, they burn out on perfectionistic attempts and they give in to the sin nature within themselves. “If people think I am worthless, why not live like it?” They take dark roads in order to fill their empty tank.
We can help our children avoid these pitfalls by tuning into the need to be valued and given a sense of worth. The greatest worth a child has is the fact that they were made uniquely by God, in His image, by His hand and for His love. Instill that worth by telling them about it, but more importantly, instill it by living out the truth in the way you treat them.
We all will occasionally fail to build our children up and treat them with respect and care. When we do fail, we can go to our children and tell them something like, “Mommy was having a bad moment and acted poorly. I hope you can forgive me, but most of all, I hope you know that you are still a treasure and precious to me and to God. I don’t want to be impatient towards you.” Taking responsibility when you act improperly will help your child avoid thinking your frustration is their fault. They may have acted out and that can be discussed in love. Often I tell my boys something like, “What you did was wrong. I hope you know that your action is not YOU. I love you even when you make poor choices or when you sin and I am going to help you make better choices and I want you to try to make a better choice.” I try to give them the awareness that their essence is not their behavior and I value them regardless of their behaviors.
If you find yourself failing to value your children more often than occasionally, please reach out for help so that you can heal whatever is in your own heart. You can grow and move into a more gentle and genuinely loving approach as a parent.
We can raise healthy children who have a deep sense of their own worth — which will translate into them knowing the worth of all human beings and into them being able to pour out from a very, very full place within themselves.