Kids have many needs. Parents often tell me they feel overwhelmed and I understand. It must be scary at times. Maybe this is a reason parents respond so well to the Model of five core needs that I’ve been teaching for over 25 years. The needs explain much about children’s behavior. Virtually every cause of misbehavior and unhealthy attitudes and beliefs can be assigned to one or more of the needs. So, it’s a very efficient problem-solving model.

Last Monday, I blogged about the first need, security. Today, let’s look at the second need, identity, in some detail.

Identity: Who am I?

As you can see from the pyramid, identity is dependent upon security. If children don’t have a healthy security, their identity may be incomplete or unhealthy. It may not be settled. If children’s behavior (identity) is especially inconsistent, it usually means their security isn’t broad or healthy.

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Children rarely if ever come up to parents or others and ask, “Who am I?” but they do need answers to the question. They need to know who they are. They learn their identity by listening to what people say to them and what they hear people say about them. This includes what they overhear us say when we’re talking with friends in the church lobby or when we’re on the phone. (It can be frustrating! They don’t listen when you want them to and they do listen when you don’t intend them to!)

Security comes before identity partly for this reason. When children know who they can trust, they know who they should listen to. If someone they can depend on challenges them to improve a behavior or attitude, these children will take it much more seriously than if the person pointing out a negative attitude is not someone they can trust.

Maybe this person is always negative and never helpful. Maybe your children have figured out he is simply trying to make himself feel better by pointing out their weaknesses. In contrast, when you raise a concern, you offer help so they can change. They’ve learned you love them and that’s why you care about their choices and behavior. Yes! A healthy security is the foundation of a healthy identity.

Children raised to trust Christ and to honor the Word of God by believing it will take seriously what He says about them. Therefore, their identity will be healthy. The same thing is true for any of us who believe. For example:

  • I am a part of God’s family. (Hebrews 2:11)
  • I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)
  • I have been forgiven. (Acts 10:43)
  • I have been set free from the law of sin. (Romans 8:2)
  • I have been fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14)
  • My Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)
  • I am known. (Psalm 139:1)
  • I have a God who hears me. (I John 5:14)
  • I am Jesus’ joy. (Hebrews 12:2)
  • I am loved. (John 3:16)

Search the Scripture for more “I am” and “I have” truths. Wow! Believing these statements causes the healthiest identity. For sure!

Let me share three other truths about our children’s identity.

Identity needs to be current. Don’t let them live in the past or only in the future. Today influences tomorrow so being fully present today is essential if we want our future to turn out a certain way. Regarding the past, if we keep pointing out the past to them, they’ll keep living there.

“Don’t spill that like you did yesterday!” reminds them their careless.

“Don’t be late again!” reminds them they’re never on time.

“I expect you to play nicer together today!” reminds them they were mean yesterday.

Find other ways to communicate your concerns. Look for them doing something better or differently and point that out.

“I like how careful you were today. Thanks.”

“Right on time! Excellent. I knew you could plan your time well.”

“I like how kind you’re being to each other.”

Identity needs to be honest. Don’t let them lie to themselves about themselves. (This is related to self-security.) For instance, when talking about my challenges with spelling, I don’t say, “I can’t spell.” That’s, of course, not true. I also don’t allow myself to say, “Spelling is hard for me.” That’s not true either. I can spell many words just fine. But, “Spelling doesn’t come naturally to me” is true. I want the rules to work so I have a hard time remembering words that break the rules. Listen to how your children talk about their strengths and weaknesses and correct them when they’re not being honest. Be brave and bold.

Identity needs to be complete. Healthy children know much about themselves and can rely on different parts of themselves when in different situations or when something fails them.

For instance, if children only rely on their academic performances to define themselves and they’re used to earning A’s, what happens when they begin earning B’s and C’s? their identity crumbles. They don’t know who they are now or they decide they don’t like who they are. Now they do nothing.

What if their only identity is “I am beautiful” and they wake up with a zit in a noticeable place and have a bad hair day on top of that. Nothing now to rely upon.

What if they only know “I am an amazing athlete!” and they break a leg or arm? Now, who will they be?

When we affirm children’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual selves, they’re better off. Look for opportunities to talk with your kids about all these areas and then do it.

What do you think about all of this? Choose something to think more deeply about. Choose one thing to talk with someone about. Choose something to implement. I’d love to know how it goes!