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5 Ways To Help Your Kids Build a Solid Identity

Jan 30, 2019

We are in an all-out identity crisis these days. Though it is part of the human experience to try to sort out who we are at different stages of life, never has that need become as critical or as urgent as it is right now. Whether it’s about gender, sexual orientation, where we fit in, or “why am I here?,” there has been a whole lot of grappling going on, sometimes with tragic results. I have to admit, when I was a younger parent, my children’s sense of their own identity wasn’t really on my radar.

Now I know better.

Partly, that’s due to the fact that we adopted older children a few years ago. We actually have four adopted kids, along with one biological. Adoption itself does bring identity issues to the forefront, but when you adopt kids that have raised themselves for the first 10-12 years of their lives, you realize how necessary good parenting is to building their identities. So now, here I am, an accidental authority on identity-building in kids. Not that I know how to do that perfectly, but I am keenly aware of what is needed.

And what is needed is a solid identity; a firm foundational belief and perspective of who you are.

Because when you know who you are, you tend to make healthy decisions. Decisions that support self-preservation and growth. When you know who you are, your behavior tends to be stable and predictable, because it’s in line with what you believe. And what you believe about yourself, life, and the people around you is informed by a healthy perspective. Relationships are affected by what people believe about themselves. Insecurity—or confidence—flourishes in a person depending on their sense of self.

Think of a newborn baby. Does she know who she is? How does she come to learn that? Generally speaking, she will learn it from two sources: people and experiences. When you think of it in these simple terms, it becomes clear how important it is that kids learn the truth about who they are from their parents.

So how do we do that? Hundreds of ways, probably, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to break it down into five general categories. These are what I believe to be the critical truths your kids must believe in order to have a solid identity:

1. I Am Loved.

I’m sure you all know we need to know this. But just as important as you communicating to your child that you love them is your child being able to receive it. Figure out each kid’s love language and speak it! I would prefer to hug and cuddle all my kids, for example, but for some of them, physical affection pushes buttons. Some need to hear me say it. Some need to see it in print. Others need little gifts and tokens of our love.That doesn’t mean we only stick to that one expression. But be aware of what actually makes your child feel loved, not just how you like to show it.

2. I Am Chosen. 

We each have a deep need to know that we have been chosen. Think of times in your own life that you have (and have not) been chosen. Can you feel how significant (and often, life changing) those events were? The same is true for your kids. They will have plenty of their own experiences with it. Better to start them right off the bat by knowing that you chose them—and would choose them, again and again. Whether they were adopted, planned, or a surprise, they need to hear the story of how they came to be part of the family, and what a blessing to you that it was. If you can’t easily retell their story, think it through. Write it down. And make sure they hear it often enough to recite it by heart. They will rely on that one day.

3. I Belong. 

This is critically important, moms and dads. No jokes about being a black sheep, adopted, etc. No child needs to feel they are “different” or like they don’t belong in their own family. Every single person needs to believe that when the whole world feels against them, they can come home to their family and be completely accepted. That there, they fit in. They belong. They have not just a seat at the table, but their seat. Evidence of their belonging is visible in their home. My dad still has artwork I’ve done over the years in his house, even though I haven’t lived with him since I was 12. That makes me feel at home when I visit. Family traditions, no matter how small, demonstrate familial belonging. This thing that we do? This is us, and I am a part of it. I’ve watched traditions alone give our newest kids a sense of their place in our family.

4. I Am Safe/Secure. 

Of course it’s vital that children are physically safe and secure within their families, but what about emotional safety and security? Moms and dads, demonstrate to your children that you are safe for them to run to when they are afraid, sad, lonely, angry, or confused. Help them process their thoughts and feelings, no matter how young or old they are. Every one of us needs to hear it is OK. We need to know we’re “normal” on some level. It is especially important now that your kids don’t pacify themselves (or numb out) in front of a screen. Or with food. Or with buying things. In times of inner turmoil, a child needs to know they can count on you for comfort and to be safe place to land, above all else.

5. I Matter. 

Before a child can learn to value himself, he must hear (and know) he matters to you. As I’ve said, I have five children, and one of them happens to be easy-going and laid back. Sometimes a kid like that gets lost in the shuffle or overshadowed by needier, more challenging siblings. I will never forget the time she choked out the question, “Do I matter to you?” through her sobs. It nearly tore my heart in half. Somehow I took it for granted that she knew. She did not. Children need to know that their place in this world matters. Make a point of helping your child see how he makes a difference in your life and in other people’s lives. Not just for what he does, but for who he is.

 

As a Christian, I believe that our true identity must be grounded firmly in who God says we are and in how He sees us. But even God, in His perfect plan, intended that we build our identity first with our parents. It’s a huge responsibility, and so important that we get this right. Because those 5 areas I outlined are deep, deep needs we all have. And if our kids don’t receive them first from their parents and ultimately, from God, they will look to other sources to fill them. Then they will have placed their very identity in the hands of other people or things. And if they lose them, or are betrayed, hurt, or abused, they won’t know who they are anymore.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it’s not too late. I’ve been intentionally working at this for the last couple of years and it’s making a huge difference in my kids’ lives and emotional wellbeing. If you’re reading this and your little ones are still, well…little…lucky you. And lucky them.

Hug their little bodies tight today and tell them who they are.

 

 

23 Comments

  1. Nancy E. Head

    I love these tips! Please God, help us live them for children we know every day! God bless!

  2. Melissa Henderson

    We share with our 18 months old grandson that he is a child of God and he is loved. We must love ourselves and show His love to others. Great message.

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      Thanks, Melissa! What a blessing to have a grandson to love on!

  3. Jessica Brodie

    Excellent piece, Michelle! And what you say about “figure out each kid’s love language and speak it” is so good. My bio kids can’t get enough cuddles, but it makes my stepdaughter uncomfortable. She prefers spending time. I took the time to figure it out and try to love her that way! I also make sure to tell all four of my kiddos (two bio, two step) I love them and am so grateful to God for them.

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      You have a challenging job, as a mom in a blended family! It’s a huge learning curve, isn’t it? Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts—may God bless you and your whole family!

  4. Julie

    Great tips for all parents!

  5. Yvonne Morgan

    Thanks for sharing these great tips for parents.

  6. Stephen Lewis

    Thank you so much for this powerful message. As a Father of two adult children I am learning to be a Dad to two adults now and it is definitely a new season that’s for sure. I gleaned some great ideas from your post thank you so much and God Bless!!!

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      Honored you read it, Stephen! Most of our kids are now young adults too, and I’m really enjoying them at this stage!

  7. Anne Mackie Morelli

    Michelle, some really good tips on how to help build solid identities in our children. There are just so many forces that have the power to be influential in forming and shaping our identities – everything ranging from social media, fashion, movies, other friends, media/news, teachers, bosses, coaches to extended family members. It means that we really need to help each other and our children stay focused on who we are in Christ. And then also use encouragement, teaching and strategies such as you share, to help form the strong identities that will be able to withstand the forces that would chip away and reshape or form how our children see themselves.

  8. Beth Bingaman

    Such important stuff. The power of parenting is so great. It is evident why the Lord placed us in such a foundational setting to be raised so these things would not get lost.

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      Thank you, Beth! Sometimes I feel like I am making up for lost time and opportunities to do it right!

  9. Susan Landry

    Calling parents to intentionally speak into their children is so important! I think too often we have handed this God-given responsibility over to schools and churches. Super advice <3

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      Yes! I totally agree—- and for all the influence church or school has over our children, it doesn’t compare to what parents have (for the good or bad) over them.

  10. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Well said! This is a powerful post, Michelle. The intentionality and forethought necessary to do this requires emotional health and maturity on the part of the parents. This is something often lacking, but which faith in Christ and then growth in him can provide, especially if the parents didn’t receive these things in the homes from which they came. Many broken people are out there raising broken children, perpetuating the same patterns with which they were raised. Faith in Christ, learning about family, counseling, coaching from mentors, reading, and implementing right ideas, like these that you’ve presented, can all help parents to grow, so they’re able to instill these values and sense of self in their children.

  11. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Well said! This is a powerful post, Michelle. The intentionality and forethought necessary to do this requires emotional health and maturity on the part of the parents. This is something often lacking, but which faith in Christ and then growth in him can provide, especially if the parents didn’t receive these things in the homes from which they came. Many broken people are out there raising broken children, perpetuating the same patterns with which they were raised. Faith in Christ, learning about family, counseling, coaching from mentors, reading, and implementing right ideas, like these that you’ve presented, can all help parents to grow, so they’re able to instill these values and sense of self in their children.

  12. Linda Samaritoni

    I love these and I can see in my grandchildren how powerful they are.

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      I read somewhere recently that grandparents are only second to a child’s own parents as the most powerful voice and influence on their life!

  13. Marcie Cramsey

    Oh my goodness, a post dear to my heart! Thank you so much for sharing this! I love this part and agree wholeheartedly with you, “And if our kids don’t receive them first from their parents and ultimately, from God, they will look to other sources to fill them. Then they will have placed their very identity in the hands of other people or things. And if they lose them, or are betrayed, hurt, or abused, they won’t know who they are anymore.” You are so correct! Sharing this with my parents at our church!

    • Michelle Wuesthoff

      I’m so excited about this, Marcie! I’ve actually written a whole book on this topic—not just for our kids, but for us. It’s Called Grafted In: Leading Your Orphan Heart to the Spirit of Adoption. Many of us function out of an orphan identity rather than one of a true son or daughter. This affects every area of our lives! Thanks for reading and sharing!

5 Ways To Help Your Kids Build a Solid Identity