Helping kids know performance does not equal worth

If you have kids in the school system, you are aware of our culture putting value in the quality of their performance which becomes a distorted basis of their identity. Whether it is in their testing ability, their math competency, or their reading comprehension; It is all the plumb-line for their value in this season of life.

We recognize as parents this idea of worth is far from the truth, however we forget that we too are struggling with our own worth and identity outside of our performance in life. Whether it is with our job, the quality of our home or car, or our relationships with others. We are constantly comparing ourselves and evaluating our performance and equating it with our worth. One of the biggest differences between us and our kids, is we have the capacity to see the truth of our value and to reflect on our experiences in order to gain a more balanced perspective.

My husband and I just completed our parent/teacher conferences. We were not surprised by our different daughters evaluations. One is doing well in school. Things come easily to her, and her personality is one of perseverance and resilience as seen in her struggle with a speech impairment. However, my other daughter has to work hard and many times is still lacking. She is starting to see that she is different than her peers in her comprehension and is identifying herself as “stupid.” This of course breaks my heart, not only because she is struggling but because I too struggled in school growing up and know the pitfalls that accompany this path.

My first impulse is to fix this issue. Get her all the tutors possible, work with every teacher, and make a reward system at home that increases her reading work at home. Now these things are not bad in themselves, in fact these are steps that are within my control to assist my child to do better in this struggle area. However, if this was the only area I focused on, I would be missing a HUGE teaching moment with my child! This is a chance to explore the differences in our design. This is a chance to be honest about our weaknesses. This is a chance to identify her strength areas. But most importantly this is a chance to have a Faith conversation and talk about how we have all been given life and design by the God of the universe.

Whenever I have a client who is exploring their identity, many times disappointed in their design, I bring out chapter 12 in the book of Romans.

Romans 12:1,2 (NIV)

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This verse reminds us that we are not our own. That our worth does not and should not come from the standard of this world. And that we can have a relationship with our awesome God. I’m of course over simplifying these verses where I could write a whole book on the instruction God is giving us here, but I believe you understand the meaning.

Romans 12:3-6a
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith;

This is where I really hit home the point: we have ALL been given a unique personality that combines strengths and weaknesses in perfect unison which can only be by God’s design. None is greater and None is lower, all are important and necessary for completion of the Body. I like to also take verse 3: “Do not think of yourself more highly (Or Lowly) than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” (italics added) Too often because of the comparison to others, the evaluation of self via performance oriented circumstances leads to thinking of ourselves in either extreme and neither is truth. Instead with “sober judgement” a healthy holistic perspective can help correct this common distortion of self. With the conclusion being that we have been designed with reason and purpose, that we will NEVER have perfection of self in this world, and embracing our status as children of God we can find contentment with both our strengths and our weaknesses.

Catch those teachable moments with your kids. Remind them that everything about their personality, their body, and their mind has been specifically picked out to be a part of them. That they should not conform to the standards of this world, as it will always leave them feeling empty and valueless. And even though this season of education will pass, unless they learn to defeat the negative self view they will always struggle with performance and worth.

Here are a couple of questions to start the conversation today:

~ What do you think your strengths are? How have you seen them acted out?

~What do you believe your weak areas are? How have you seen them lived out?

~Why do you think God gave you these strengths and weaknesses? How do you think you could use them in combination?

~ In your school what traits are valued? Why?

~If you could have one strength that you do not have, what would it be and why?

~ What do you think it would take for you to not mind your weak areas so much?

Keep in mind that they need to be HEARD and not talked to. If they need direction then ask if you can help come up with ideas, otherwise let them continue to think and verbally process with you.
Being open now encourages them to come back to discuss this same topic when they are having a hard time.

Paige Clingenpeel

Teen Therapist working with teens and parents on TV, Radio, Web-Based Media, Blogs, and Print. Presently a monthly contributor to the women's parenting & marriage site iMom.com, and host of TBN's Tween show iShine K'Nect. Paige also provides individual therapy at LifeSprings Counseling Center, and works at Parkview Health as a student assistant counselor assigned to Carroll High School. Paige is married to Ryan and has two daughters and two sons!