I am prone to extremes. I am too lazy for too long, and then I work out until I nearly blow out my knees. I am too hard on my kids, and then I let them run around like monkeys. I make a big mess in the garage, and then I organize like a mad man—okay, I don’t really do that organizing thing much. Let’s get back to the thing with my kids.
There are plenty of occasions when extremes are well and good. I applaud Rocky for going to extremes in preparing to fight Apollo Creed; I’m glad C.S. Lewis labored over every word he wrote; and I love it that the guys who draw blueprints for a bridge are out-of-balance perfectionists in their work. These are all good and appropriate occasions for extremes. Extremes are bad, however, in relationships, and downright dangerous when it comes to raising our kids. As I wrote in the first post in The Enemy Within series, extremely high self-esteem leads to narcissism, which is not what we want for our kids. As this series continues, I want to go over some suggestions I have come up with to help avoid raising more narcissists.
Before I do, keep in mind that I am thinking of these as small changes in how we all operate, perhaps three degrees of difference. Do not turn your house upside down from what you are doing now and enact these strategies 100 percent. I think that all things in relationships and child-rearing need to be done with wisdom and tact. Think of rigidity like a blueprint and a relationship like a finger painting. One is precise and the other is fun, slow, and even healing to participate in. So without further adieu, here is my first suggestion:
Commend resilience and endurance more than success.
A narcissist thinks he should win fast and frequently. He expects it. If (and when) he doesn’t, he is angry, frustrated, and will commonly blame others for his failure. Saying that “success” is the goal for our kids implies that failure is to be avoided at all costs. In saying this, we set an expectation for our kids to run the fastest, start every game, and be in the academic 90th percentile at all times. Then our children will believe that to be a winner is obviously the best thing in the world, and losing is a setback like none other, embarrassing and possibly shameful.
The reality of life is that we all do much more losing than winning. This being the case, I propose that it would be brilliant for our kids (and us) to spend more time learning to be resilient and have endurance through the challenges they (and we) will inevitably face.
When people are resilient, they get back up from a failure or loss and tend to learn from the experience, because they are not busy blaming everyone else on the planet. They are not destroyed by the setbacks—disappointed perhaps, but not completely undone. Along with praising them for things done well, it would be wise for parents to praise their children for being resilient and having endurance. How do you do this? Perhaps you could say things like:
I love how you can take what the world dishes out.
You always have such a good attitude .
I love how you bounce back .
Let’s make sure you don’t make anyone feel the way she made you feel.
These kinds of statements affirm your children’s character qualities, as opposed to their performance and external achievements. These types of statements can be like medicine to a sick heart, and they encourage kids to not be overly discouraged when they fail. These words also offer hope that when things go wrong again (and they certainly will), our kids will not be as wounded as they were the previous time. This becomes an exercise in building endurance. What a confidence builder—to know they are able bounce back, endure, and even do well through a tough time. By the way, a man who grows up like this is no Narcissus. Instead, he’s the guy you want to marry, or work for, or just hang out with. There will be no tantrums, very little drama, and he will have the emotional intelligence to be aware of the people around him.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” ~Philippians 3:13-15
Next time, we will talk about the process of maturing and how we can assist this.
Dave Carl is Pastor of Family and Children’s Ministries at Stonebriar. During the past 12 years, Dave has served on staff at Insight for Living in various capacities. His primary role at IFL was as the creator and creative director of Paws & Tales, a weekly children’s radio program. Through this ministry, Dave shared the love of God with a sense of joy, humor, and humility to children of all ages.