Perils of the Playground
Equip your children with God’s promises.
by Kayla Aimee
WHEN MY DAUGHTER first started school, I expected her to come home with crayon drawings, fanciful stories, and little bits of glitter stuck to her hair. Mostly because … have you ever let an elementary school kid have glitter? That stuff gets everywhere.
Instead she met me one afternoon in tears because of Cartoon Cat. It seemed that a group of girls had decided to form a club in which all of its members must wear shirts emblazoned with the whiskered face of one Hello Kitty®. My daughter, Scarlette, was styled in a cute, teal sweater that I had purchased for her. On clearance, thank you very much. Apparently my savvy shopping skills weren’t at all appreciated by the preschool set, because they very adamantly informed her that until she had a Hello Kitty shirt of her own, she couldn’t play with them. (I didn’t realize playground politics were so intense.)
Scarlette sniffled as she recounted the conversation from the backseat of the car and then asked me to buy her the coveted shirt so that her friends would want to play with her again. She thought a Hello Kitty shirt would solve the problem. I wish I could’ve simply handed her that solution, bought her way into the group with a brand. Instead we had a long talk about friendship and acceptance. We talked about how true friendship isn’t based on what we wear. But I did understand her lingering wistfulness because aren’t we all just searching for a place to belong?
The catalyst for insecurity is often found in small interactions that leave us feeling inadequate. It’s a critical comment, a rejection in a relationship, or maybe a moment that made us feel like a misfit. For my daughter, it was a Hello Kitty logo. For my middle-school self, it was a cruel comment that leveled my confidence.
If we don’t teach our children how to guard their hearts against those subtle intrusions, insecurity moves from a moment to an inner monologue, infiltrating the way they think about themselves and negatively impacting their self-worth.
While we can’t always protect them from the perils of the
playground, we can help build our children up with steadfast affirmations,
providing a firm foundation of truth so that they have a bold confidence in who
they were uniquely created to be.
Here are three ways to gracefully build confidence in our kids.
1. Encourage Positive Self-talk
Children are tiny little parrots. This is a fact I know intimately as my daughter likes to repeat things that I say at the most decidedly inopportune moments. Usually without proper context, which typically results in absolutely mortifying moments for me. Like that one time a kind cashier asked her how her day was going and she responded, “Not so good ‘cause my Mommy keeps saying BAD words to me!”
By bad words, she meant that I told her no. I had declined her repeated requests for candy, to which she wailed, “Mommy! You just keep saying bad words to me!” In a moment of stellar parenting, I laughingly replied, “Well, my answer is still no so I guess it’s just all bad words today.” Except that backfired on me in the checkout lane.
Our children listen closely to how we speak — to them, to
ourselves, and to others. And what they hear is what they hold on to, what
forms the way they speak to themselves. As parents, we have the gift of helping
shape that inner monologue and fostering a positive self-image.
Encouraging positive self-talk helps set our children’s heart narrative to reflect what God says about us. Using Scripture to teach our children the truth about who they are serves as a touchstone to continuously point back to the promises of His love for us. Helping your children memorize three key verses from the Bible will give them words to guide them in situations where they feel inadequate or insecure.
To make it easier for young children to memorize, frame these verses as “I” statements. I use these three statements with my own children because I think each one speaks to a common core insecurity. In moments where they feel their confidence faltering, I hope they will reach for the steadfast affirmation these Scriptures provide and feel reassured.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “I am God’s masterpiece.”
Romans 15:7 tells us, “I am accepted.”
And John 15:9 tells us, “I am loved.”
When we use scriptural affirmations to teach our children to think positively about themselves, we’re not just building confidence in them and ourselves, more importantly we’re building confidence in God’s Word.
Children seek out the comfort of what is familiar. I want these verses to be so dear to my children’s hearts that when they are in search of a safe space to tend their wounds, they seek out the shelter of God’s Word and they abide there.
2. Be Cheerleaders, Not Criticizers
Ephesians 4:29 says, “No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.”
I’ve often said that my challenge in parenting my wild-spirited child is to shape a spirited soul without breaking it. She’s a girl who dances like no one is watching. Literally. She’s doing grand jetés all the way through the grocery store.
One of the greatest lessons that parenthood has taught me is the art of grace giving. It’s a practice, ever in pursuit of perfection. It’s meant for the process of building, not breaking down. This is why we’re enamored with grace, because no one wants to be broken.
The world, however, is in the habit of breaking. So to counter hurtful and cutting words, we must build first — not a fortress to hide behind but a firm foundation on which to confidently stand.
This means that when someone makes a mistake, we don’t belittle or belabor. We acknowledge what it means to fail well, to accept grace for ourselves, and to display grace for others. Instead of criticizing a mistake, we cheer one another on, because children need cheerleaders. They need for us to believe in them, to celebrate the unique personality that they were created with.
Rather than finding fault with themselves, we can lead our children to speak to themselves in an Ephesians tone. We can build them up when they’re in need and they will learn to rely on that when they face uncertainty.
3. Pray With Your Children
My daughter lives for laughter and it bubbles up in her until she can’t contain it, bouncing gleefully with the overflow of joy as she tells joke after joke to anyone who will listen. In the mornings before school, she and I say a prayer together while we wait to go through the car line. Typically it involves very deep, spiritual communion such as “Dear God, please help me with my coloring.” (When you are in kindergarten, staying inside the lines is a very big deal.)
One morning this past fall she asked me to say a prayer that was all about her and so I did, speaking aloud as I peeked at her with her head bent low and her hands folded primly in her lap.
“Dear God, thank You for Scarlette, because she is such a special girl to me and because I love that she is so funny and always makes me laugh,” I said, and she lifted her face to mine.
She is naturally exuberant, my Scarlette, with a constant mischievous sparkle in her wide eyes, but in that moment her face beamed radiantly as though I had heaped upon her the highest possible form of praise. This short span of time, sitting in the car before school, suddenly moved from being just another insignificant morning to a moment of motherhood that permanently etched itself into my heart.
It was then that I saw how important that part of her personality is to her. It showed me a new avenue to pursue her heart and gave me a glimpse into how I could specifically speak love to her. Because it resonated so deeply with her, I realized I could help build her confidence by highlighting how lovely God had created her in this regard.
Praying with my children also affords me the opportunity to listen. It’s in witnessing the conversations that I hear their heart — what they fear, where they struggle, what they wish. It’s an honor to hear the communication.
Proverbs 1:9 says that a mother’s teaching will be like a garland of grace. In the days when the Proverbs were written, the symbolism of a garland represented protection and an ornamentation which enhances. This sounds a lot like parenthood, doesn’t it? That innate desire to protect our children while enhancing the wonderfully-made personality that God knit them together with?
By equipping our children with scriptural affirmations, we help them lean on God’s promises — a layer of protection against the insecurities that can creep in from peers and playgrounds. •
Kayla Aimee is a writer, mother, and a spirited southern girl who spends her days uncovering hope and humor in unexpected places. Her poignant but humorous storytelling style has firmly established her as an influential faith and family blogger. Her work has been featured on “The TODAY Show” and The Huffington Post, as well as several other national media outlets.