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Christian Child-Rearing #1

Self-Concept

I present to you (over a period of time) one of the finest old
books I have read on the subject of Christian Child-Rearing and
Personality Development, by Paul D.Meier (Keith Hunt, June 2007).



                                CHAPTER ONE


THE CHILD'S SELF-CONCEPT


     We have all been told in many ways, throughout our lives,
that we are inferior. This includes both verbal and non-verbal
messages. Some of these messages have been intentional, while
many have been unintentional. I will discuss some of the ways
that we can minimize the development of inferiority feelings in
our children. I believe very firmly that our first and most
important calling from God, if we are, parents, is to be the kind
of parents to our children that God would have us to be. I don't
care if you're a doctor, pastor, businessman, or travelling
salesman-your family comes first! Whatever time you have left
over from being the right kind of parent-that's the time you can
use to accomplish whatever other callings God has given you! And
one of the most important things we can do for our children is to
develop within them an emotionally healthy and Scripturally
accurate self-concept. Without self-worth, our children will not
only have a miserable life, but they will also be unable to reach
the potential God has called them to reach. I firmly believe that
all emotional pain ultimately comes from three root sources: (1)
lack of self-worth, (2) lack of intimacy with others, and (3)
lack of intimacy with God. A poor self-concept can significantly
hamper us in all three of these essential areas.

     One of the most important facts I have learned in my psy-
chiatric training is that approximately 85 percent of a person's
ultimate personality is formed by the time he is six years old.
This fact alone has given me great insights into people and their
problems. During those first six years of life, children really
are inferior in many ways to the other persons in their
environment. They are much smaller physically, more clumsy, more
ignorant of the facts, and more concrete and naive in their
interpretation of the meager facts they have accumulated. And on
top of all that, they are inferior in authority, with parents
ruling over them and older siblings bossing them around. That's
what goes on the first six years. Then they go off to school at
age five or six, and what happens there? They may get all 80 and
90 percents on their papers and tests, but what does this mean to
them? It means that they got 10 or 20 percent wrong, and all they
see and hear about are the parts of their work that the teacher
marked with red ink! Instead of the emphasis being on what they
have learned and accomplished, the emphasis in American schools
today is usually a negative one-on what they have done wrong! 
(William Glasser, "Schools Without Failure.")
     Another serious influence on the development of self-worth
in our children is the influence of our parental value systems.
What do we as parents place the most value upon in our own
everyday life? I'm not talking about the values we tell our
children they should have, but the values they see us actually
living by when they analyze why we do the things we do and say
the things we say. Is our focus on materialism? Athletics?
Sinless perfection? Good looks? Intelligence? Humanitarianism? Or
godly character? Perhaps your own parents went through the
depression of the 1930s, and have reacted by overemphasizing
material gain in their daily life experiences and conversations.
Now you have grown up in that home, and, as an adult, have become
very successful at a very worthwhile profession that only pays
average wages. You will probably have conscious (or unconscious)
inferiority feelings because you have not lived up to the
materialistic expectations that were built into your way of
thinking. At this point your own children detect your inner
dissatisfaction and frustrations about not having more money and
material possessions. They see these frustrations eat away at
your own self-worth, and, step by step, they learn from you to
measure their own self-worth in terms of their own material
possessions - motorcycles, mod clothes, tenspeed racing bikes,
and spending money. If they don't have these things, they feet
worthless. And even if they do have these things, they will
compare themselves with others their age who have more, and they
will still feel inferior. That's human nature. From this example
I hope you can understand how faulty value systems can be passed
on from generation to generation.

     I want to make it clear that I am in no way condemning being
rich. It is not a sin to be rich. But it is a sin to base our
self-worth on our riches. Some of the godliest men in the Bible
were also the richest men on earth in material terms-Abraham,
Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, and many others. But
their self-worth was based on their faith in Gods wisdom, and
godly character traits. God simply chose to bless them
tremendously with material possessions.
     Other great men of God had similar virtues but God chose for
them to live in financial poverty. Take, for example, the
disciples and the Apostle Paul. Paul said he had experienced both
riches and poverty, both popularity and abasement; but Paul based
his self-worth on godly character traits, and could therefore.
say, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be
content" (Phil.4:11). Paul's sense of values is reflected in his
counsel to early Christians:

     Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
     Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be
     equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took
     upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness
     of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled
     himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of
     the cross. Wherefore God also bath highly exalted him, and
     given him a name which is above every name: That at the name
     of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and
     things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every
     tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the
     glory of. God the Father. - Phil.2:5-11

     Christ Himself told us, "But seek ye first the kingdom of
God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added
unto you" (Matt.6:98). If God has blessed you financially, I
think that's great! But be aware of the fact that your life here
on this earth is a temporary pilgrimage and a mission, and that
developing godly character in children who will live forever is
millions of times more important than devoting yourself to
business opportunities so you can provide them with so-called
financial security. I'd rather have eternal security than
financial security any day. Of course, there's nothing immoral
about having both, if God so blesses.
     The proverbial Jewish mother puts a lot of emphasis on good
grades, 100 percents on test papers, and things like that when
she praises her children. This is in contrast to the average
American mother who praises her children for hanging their
clothing up or being quiet in the restaurant. My own parents,
even though they weren't Jewish, rewarded me for good grades and
punished me for poor grades when I was in elementary school.
After I got to junior high, they continued to reward me for good
grades and would frown at occasional not so good grades. They
also rewarded me for reading Spurgeon's sermons and drawing
architectural designs of houses. My father, who is a retired home
builder, even built one of the houses I designed and moved our
family into it, an event which I'm sure contributed to my own
self worth. My parents also attended all the elementary school
open houses to see and praise the good work their children had
done. But mixed with all this were regular church and Sunday
School attendance, and daily devotions around the supper table.
At these devotions, we would sing a hymn, read a chapter or so
from the Bible, and then get down on our knees beside our chairs
and pray for each other's needs. It was this background that
influenced me to continue my education for twenty-five years
(thirteen before high school graduation, counting kindergarten,
and twelve after), and become a Christian psychiatrist whose
desire is to design spiritual homes rather than physical ones.
     But I have seen this emphasis on education get out of hand
in some of the families I have dealt with. I had a patient with a
Ph.D. from Duke University who frequently felt like a failure
because he didn't go after an M.D. degree, as his parents had
wished. I know another man with a doctorate in economics from
Harvard, who is very successful professionally and a brilliant
scholar. But he still carries around bad feelings about the one
course in which he didn't get an "A" as an undergraduate in
college. His parents had taught him that anything less than an
"A" is a dishonor to the entire family. His uncle even flew in
from out of state to talk to him about it when it happened. If we
as parents have unrealistic expectations for our children, they
will feel like failures, no matter how much they succeed in the
world's eyes.
     Some parents go to the other extreme too, caring nothing
about the accomplishments of their children. I know of many
doctors and preachers who were so busy serving humanity or
furthering the cause of Christ that their children developed
terrible feelings of worthlessness, feelings from which they ran
by taking drugs or committing suicide. The Bible tells us that
the only men who should be ministers, elders, or deacons in a
local church are those who have "faithful children not accused of
riot or unruly" (Titus 1:6). There was a time when one of my
sisters was going through a temporary rebellious stage, so my
father resigned as deacon and did not assume his duties as deacon
again. until she had passed through it. Now that same sister is a
godly woman who is happily married to a fine Christian, has two
beautiful children, conducts Bible studies in her home, and is a
real prayer warrior for God. She has the highest regard for the
father she rebelled against earlier. He admits now, when he looks
back, that he was spending too much time doing church work and
not enough time with his family. He was holding several church
offices at the same time.
     It's interesting to note that my sister now attends church
where the minister will not allow any individual to hold more
than one position in that church. He says he would rather have
each individual do one job well and devote the rest of his time
to his family. I think that's a great idea. One of the most
important abilities I have learned is the ability to say no to
well-intentioned people who ask me to do things when I know my
time is already stretched as far as I want it to be. A minister
who can't say no sometimes for the sake of his family should
serve the Lord in some other profession. As church members, we
can also be of assistance to our pastors by such little things as
not calling him at night, hiring people to relieve him of mundane
chores, and participating in the evangelistic work of the church
ourselves, as was the case in the early church.
     Let's discuss our value systems regarding athletics for a
moment. Overall, I think athletics are a great tradition for a
number of reasons. A school-age child's self-worth is influenced
a great deal by how he is regarded and valued by his peers. And
being average or better than average in athletic skills is one
good way to gain the respect of his peers. Sports will teach the
child teamwork, enthusiasm, how to compete with himself, how to
compete with others, how to win graciously, and how to accept
defeat and frustrations. He will see himself improving with
practice, and apply this concept to other areas of his life. He
will learn to play by the rules, and he'll learn the consequences
of disobeying rules. It is to be hoped that he will apply these
concepts to the "game of life." Sports can help your child gain
self-confidence as his ability increases, and he can use athletic
teams to develop close friendships and to learn to relate to
others.
     But before you decide that athletics is a cure-all, I feel
that it is my duty as a Christian psychiatrist to show you the
other side of the coin too. Athletics, if misapplied, can be used
to destroy a child's self-worth, or even to teach him sociopathic
values. When you play baseball with your children, do you praise
them when they do something right, or do you remain silent when
they hit or catch the ball and criticize them when they miss it?
Are you continually correcting and showing them how they should
have done it? To become good athletes what they really need is
your acceptance, your companionship, repetition, repetition, and
repetition, mixed with some genuine praise for what they do
right. Then there is the problem of coaches. There are good
coaches and there are bad coaches. There are coaches who are
emotionally healthy, who help develop character in youngsters;
and there are emotionally disturbed or spiritually depraved
coaches who need to win so badly that they teach their athletes
to cheat, to injure other players, and to do whatever else is
necessary to win. This is the "win at any cost" philosophy. If
your child accepts this "win at any cost" philosophy in sports,
he will apply it to other areas of his life as well. An intense
desire to win is quite healthy, but not if it is at any cost. I
want my children to be assertive and competitive, but not
sociopathic.

     Another thing to watch for is expecting too much of your
children in athletics. Don't forget that much of athletic ability
is inherited, and your child may be getting social benefits from
simply warming up the bench- If you're proud of him for making
the team, or for having the courage even to try out, he'll have
selfworth. If you express disappointment that he is not the
quarterback or shortstop, he'll lose some self-worth. I am 6'4",
but I don't have very much natural athletic ability. I'm good at
some sports and poor at others. I had a basketball backboard on
the garage when I was growing up, and spent hundreds of hours
there shooting baskets-but I never made a single basketball team.
I didn't even make my fraternity basketball team in college.
Basketball is definitely not my spiritual gift! I'm fairly good
at tug-of-war and arm-wrestling, and I was a fairly good goalie
in soccer, but definitely not basketball. For that reason, there
is nothing that would build my self-worth more than to have my
son become a professional basketball player. I could build his
whole life around basketball and place all sorts of demands upon
him if he wants to be accepted by me. And this is exactly what a
multitude of parents do-expect their children to succeed in areas
that they were weak in when they were growing up. So if my sons
inherited my basketball-playing ability, I ought to. give God the
freedom to develop the talents He chose for them to have. I would
rather have my children meet the needs of the Kingdom of God, and
their own personal needs, than to feel obligated to make up for
my own personal deficiencies.
     I don't believe sports are the exclusive possession of the
male gender either. Girls can benefit from them just as boys can,
but I would not advise you to encourage in any way your daughter
to be a boy or to try out for left tackle on the high school
football team! Some fathers prefer sons so much that their
daughters become boys to gain their acceptance. This can result
in a wide variety of emotional conflicts, including difficulty
relating sexually in marriage. But this is only if the problem is
severe, and most girls go through somewhat of a tomboy stage in
pre- and early adolescence.

     We have touched on a few of the faulty value systems that we
parents frequently have: overemphasis on materialism, education,
or athletics. There are dozens of others we could discuss, but
there is one more that I feel I must cover. It is the one I have
probably seen misused more than any other in my experience as a
psychiatrist, with materialism taking a close second. That faulty
value system is the overemphasis in American society today on
physical appearance ( Bill Gothard, Seminar: Institute in Basic
Youth Conflicts). 

     A great deal of the inferiority feelings experienced by
millions of Americans today comes from comparing various physical
defects with the physical attributes of others. I have seen this
commonly in both men and women. I'll describe briefly how it is
developed in girls, and some of the consequences of it, but
remember that this occurs in boys too in a very similar way. This
particular faulty value system usually develops when a pretty
little girl is born into a family that overemphasizes physical
appearance, so they praise her over and over again for how pretty
she is, but never praise her for anything else. There is nothing
wrong with praising your children occasionally for how nice they
look-I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about praising good
looks at the expense of other more important things, like godly
character traits. These parents are also constantly bragging to
others about their child's good looks in the child's presence.
The parents certainly mean no harm, but if this is overdone (and
it frequently is in today's society), the child will learn to
measure her own self-worth for the rest of her life on the basis
of her physical attractiveness or sex appeal. As she grows older,
especially during her teens, she will always find somebody who
has a prettier face, a better figure, less knobby knees, or
whatever else she considers her main physical defect. It is
interesting to note that it is nearly always her physical defects
that she will compare with others, not the physical attributes
that are satisfactory. In many cases, the more attractive the
girl, the more inferior she may feel deep down, partially because
her parents naturally tended to place more emphasis on her looks
than they would have had she been an average-looking girl. What a
difference it would make if parents would primarily praise their
child's good character and behavior! Character and behavior
defects are correctable! Physical defects usually are not. A
child whose parents value and praise good character and behavior
will strive to improve his or her character and behavioral
weaknesses in order to gain both parental approval and feelings
of self-worth, which are vital to good mental health.

     Many of us fail to recognize the hidden bitterness and
resentment we carry toward God for not designing us the way we
would have designed ourselves. We don't realize that God designed
us the way He did because He loves us and wants to develop within
each of us a Christlike character, so that we can experience the
abundant life. How foolish we sometimes are, thinking that we are
wiser than God Lets take a dose look at what God inspired David
to write about this subject:

     For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in
     my mother's womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am
     fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, and
     my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from
     Thee, when I was made in secret, and skill. fully wrought in
     the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed
     substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days
     that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of
     them. - Ps.189:18-16, NASV

     I especially appreciate this beautiful portion of Holy
Scripture from my point of view as a physician. David, under
God's divine inspiration, does a fantastic job of describing
medical embryology. David knew nothing about DNA and RNA, but he
knew that before we were even born, God designed us! While our
bodies were being skilfully differentiated within our mothers'
wombs, each of our "inward parts" was designed exactly as God
intended. This includes the strengths and weaknesses of each of
us. It includes areas of special talent, and areas where the
talent just isn't there. It includes basic intelligence
potential, some basic personality characteristics, and hereditary
predispositions to certain physical and mental illnesses. Manic
depression, for example, is primarily a genetically predetermined
mental illness (Merrill T. Eaton and Margaret H. Peterson,
Psychiatry, P. 199).

     Psychiatrists put patients suffering from mania on lithium
salts and they frequently are back to normal within ten days.
Other examples will be discussed later. In contrast, many people,
probably all of us, have changeable defects, such as being
overweight, overanxious, or overly dependent upon others. These
are things that we are responsible for ourselves, and I believe
we should make every effort to correct our correctable defects.
This will improve our self-worth as well as our usefulness to God
as far as our testimony is concerned.
     Let's take a brief look at the Apostle Paul. Paul was
probably the greatest missionary of all time. Why did Paul make
himself so totally available to God while so many other
Christians make themselves available to God only a portion of the
time, thinking that they can run their own lives better than God
can? Note what Paul had to say about this:

     And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,
     for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was
     given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Saran to
     buffet me - to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this
     I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from
     me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient jar you,
     for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore,
     I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of
     Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with
     weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with
     persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when
     I am weak, then I am strong. - 2 Cor.12:7.10, NASV

     God gave Paul the gift of healing, and with that gift Paul
healed all kinds of illnesses in others. But God said no to Paul
when he requested the power to heal himself. God said no for a
reason. I believe God answers every one of our prayers, but to
expect God to always answer them affirmatively is not only naive,
it is an attempt to take over the omniscience and omnipotence of
Almighty God. God gave the Apostle Paul an uncorrectable defect
for Paul's own good and for the glory of God, and He may do the
same for some of us, like it or not. True Biblical Christianity
is extremely practical. It works! Living according to God's wise
concepts, as outlined in His Holy Word, will result in the
abundant life of love, joy, peace, and the other fruits of the
Spirit.

     It doesn't surprise me that many non-Christian psychiatrists
think that all religion is hocus-pocus magical thinking, since so
many of their mentally disturbed patients are hysterical and try-
ing to play God, telling Him what to do and how to do it. The
more inferior a person feels, the more superior he will probably
act; this is to compensate for his feelings of inadequacy. If his
inferiority reaches psychotic proportions, he will likely make
up, and actually believe, grandiose delusions about himself.
These are frequently paranoid delusions which make him feel more
important.
     I have had several patients (including one woman) who
actually thought they were Jesus Christ. I interviewed one such
patient in a locked room, and when I asked him if he knew why he
was there in the mental hospital, he told me God had sent him
there to take me home to heaven. At that point I began sweating
profusely! I was afraid that he might get up right then and there
and try to send me home to heaven! He asked me for a sip of my
coke, and I told him I didn't share my cokes for fear of
spreading germs. He responded that if I would give him a sip of 
coke, he would give me eternal life. So I said, "Here, take the
whole thing!" With proper medication, he improved from his acute
paranoid schizophrenic episode in a few weeks. I found out later
that he had lived a very wicked life, but had accepted the Lord a
couple of years prior to this illness and joined a very
negativistic local church. He already had an abundance. of
inferiority and inadequacy feelings because of his past. To make
matters worse, this church kept pounding negative and legalistic
thoughts into him right and left. His self-worth finally reached
such a low ebb that he convinced himself he was Christ, so he
could bear the severe pain of his low self concept. I encouraged
him when he was sane again to dwell on God's grace and his
importance to God, and God's total forgiveness for his entire
past. I wanted to tell him to quit his church and get into a
healthier assembly of believers. In fact 1 hinted at this to him,
although I don't believe it is my place as a psychiatrist to tell
people what church to go to-just what type of churches I think
are health-producing.

     The local church you choose for your children to grow up in
will become one of the major influences on their self concepts.
If you're in a negativistic, legalistic church that neglects
God's grace, you're in the wrong boat! It will permanently damage
your child's self-worth. Or if you are in a liberal church,
supposing it to be a sinking ship you can save, your children
will probably sink with it. I would recommend that you get your
family into a church where the Bible is accepted as the errorless
Word of God, where souls are being saved, where genuine Christian
love is practiced, where God's grace, love, acceptance, and
forgiveness are preached (as well as God's justice), and where
healthy entertainment and youth activities are available for your
children? (For a goad description of a  and psychologically
healthy church, read Gene A.Getz's book, "The Measure of a
Church"). I am genuinely grieved in my heart when I see the
potential so many children have to live the abundant life and to
further the cause of Christ, and then realize that thousands of
them will never reach that potential because they are being
ruined by rigid churches that stand for the wrong things or
liberal churches that don't stand for anything!
     Solomon said, "Take away the dross from the silver, and
there shall come forth a vessel for the finer" (Prov.25:4). As
Christians, each of us is a silver vessel, made according to
God's divine plan. Each of us also is covered, to various
extents, by the dross of human error. And each of our children is
covered to some extent by the dross of our errors as parents.
Underneath that dross, each of us (and each of our children) is a
unique silver vessel. Not a single one of us is inferior to any
other, though we may each have a different, unique design. We
must all strive for spiritual and emotional maturity, placing
ourselves and our children in God's hands, so He can remove that
dross and use our children and ourselves as vessels of honor
rather than vessels of dishonor.

     Each human being is extremely important to God. Christ said,
"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall
not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of
your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of
more value than many sparrows" (Matt.10:29-31).

     Christ also showed us how important we are to Him when He
said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow
me: And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never
perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My
Father, which gave them to me, is greater than all; and no man is
able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are
one" (John 10:27-30). What security that brings! So many
unhealthy churches believe that God is a mean old man holding a
whip, just waiting for us to dare to break one of His rules, so
He can snap us with the whip or take us out of His hand and flick
us off. When these churches read John 3:3 and John 3:7, they
stutter, so that it comes out, "Ye must be born again, and again,
and again, and again." But the God of the Bible is a God of
perfect love and perfect justice, who sent His Son, Jesus Christ,
to die on a real cross in order to save us from a real hell. He
is a God who loves us so much that He gave us His love letter,
the Holy Bible, which contains the principles He wishes us to
live by if we want the abundant life. And Christ says He takes
those who put their faith in Him and puts them in the palm of His
hand, giving them eternal life. And the Father puts His loving
hand around Christ's hand, and neither of them will let us out of
that secure position that we have in Him by His grace. "For by
grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of ourselves: it
is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast"
(Eph.2:8-9).

     We may have a long way to go as far as emotional and
spiritual maturity is concerned, but we are definitely not
inferior, and neither are our children. Several years ago, a
friend of mine wore on his coat a button with the letters
BPGIFWMY. I asked him what it meant, and he told me, "Be patient,
God isn't finished with me yet!" There is a real lesson to be
learned from that. We should be as patient with ourselves and
with each other as God is.

     O LORD, Thou hast searched me and known me. 
     Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
     Thou dost understand my thought from afar.
     Thou cost scrutinize nay path and my lying down, 
     And art intimately acquainted with all my ways. 
     Even before there is a word on my tongue, 
     Behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all.
     Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, 
     And laid Thy hand upon me.
     Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 
     It is too high, I cannot attain to it....

     How precious also are Thy thoughts to me, O God! 
     How vast is the sum of them!
     If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. 
     When I awake, I am still with Thee.

     Search me, O God, and know my heart; 
     Try me and know my anxious thoughts; 
     And see if there be any hurtful way in me,   
     And lead me in the everlasting way. - Ps. 139:1-6,17-18,    
     28-24, NASV

                          .......................


To be continued with "The Importance of Genuine Love Between
Parents."

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