Helping Kids Embrace Their Identity in Christ

Do you have a nickname?

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My dad nearly always called my “Cath.” When I present an outlandish idea or request to my husband, he commonly replies with a playful eye roll and, “Oh, Catherine…” My kids call me “Mommagirl.” Friends (and spouses) of my kids often call me “MommaMac.”

Some nicknames are computer generated (really). Others are given as terms of endearment during childhood. Perhaps they reflect accomplishments or character. While some nicknames may help us feel connected and part of a group, others, sadly, are meant to insult or tear down. The story behind a nickname can stir up tender memories, fuel a sense of accomplishment, or flood our minds with shame and humiliation. A nickname has the power to strengthen or erode a relationship based on tone, use, context, and history, and can impact a child’s personal identity.

I’d like you to meet, “Dollar.”

I’m a generous giver of playful nicknames. Most don’t stick for more than a few seconds. Others have lingered for decades. For example, I find myself referring to my daughter (mostly in private settings) as “Dollar.” It’s a nickname that’s more than 20 years old.

As a toddler, she enjoyed the rolling telephone toy. Maybe you remember this classic plaything.  It’s comical eyes bobbed up and down with a gentle squeak as the phone was pulled throughout the house.  As she towed her toy-friend along she’d often look at it and say, “Come on Dollar.” For the life of me, I couldn’t assign any logic to that name. But she used it time and time again.

One day, I lifted her from her car seat and set her feet firmly on the pavement of the grocery store parking lot. As I reached for her hand I said, “Come on Darlin’” and it clicked. “Dollar” meant “Darlin’” in her 2-year-old speak. My term of endearment permanently changed to her language that day. I stopped calling her “Darlin’” and began referring to her as “Dollar.”

Acquiring a Nickname Isn’t Always Pleasant

It’s one of my favorite stories, but acquiring a nickname isn’t always so pleasant. A nickname can take hold during an embarrassing micro-moment at school, during a play date, or even youth group. Kids (even siblings) can be unkind. Adults can speak before thinking. Peers sometimes pursue a laugh without considering consequences. Names can stick – and we have an enemy of our souls who wants to ensure that they do.

As moms, it’s our role to remind our kids of truth. Always.

This is a mom-lesson I wish I’d learned early in parenting, but I didn’t. I accepted Christ as my Savior in High School but didn’t allow Him full access to my life until my parenting years.  As I look back at the lack of Christ’s influence during those years, I often think that I was a terrible parent (a self-assigned nickname). It’s an identity the Lord and I have had to demolish together. My kids are phenomenal adults. Yes, I made many parenting mistakes, but God has used each one for His glory.

My personal assessment is just one example of how a nickname can take root and shape the way we think about ourselves. They have a strong influence in forming our personal identity, which should come from the truth of Christ alone.

3 things I’ve learned about personal identity:

1)  The world shouts while Christ speaks in a still, small voice. That means embracing our identity in Christ takes practice and intention. As moms, we can help develop strong habits in our kids and teach them to see themselves as Christ does – not as what a friend’s or adversary’s criticism says.

2)  We tend to allow ourselves to become who our named-identity portrays. I believe this is true for young and old alike. If a kid on the playground calls our child fat, the next time she looks in the mirror, she’s likely to see a chubbier reflection than she did the day before. Suddenly she notices the roll of skin around her waistband.

If a teacher holds her tongue but gives an obvious look of disapproval at an answer given in class, our son may begin to think of himself as unintelligent. He’ll hesitate to raise his hand during future class discussions. It seems natural to accept criticism as fact rather than fighting to hold to an identity of truth.

3)  It’s never too early nor too late to take on an identity of truth. I have names that have rattled around in my head for decades and the Lord, still, is helping me through the process of rejecting those that are false. How I wish I’d had someone doing battle with me when I was younger. I was self-confident, once upon a time, but over the years lost my ability to resist criticism. I began to wear it, and eventually, I started to believe it. At my age and because of the long duration of what became self-condemnation, it’s a much tougher practice to overcome.  Conversely, when we instill in our children the truth about who they are in Christ, they’ll more likely resist the attempts of the enemy to deceive them about their identity.  It’s never too early to start.

An Important Note About Identity Responsibility

It’s important to note that moms aren’t responsible for the ways our children see their identity. We can’t control their thoughts or actions. They will make choices far different from what we’d wish for them. Never lose sight, however, of the strong influence we have into their identity.

What we say matters.

I’m not suggesting that we only speak ooey-gooey flattery over our children. No. Heck No. I’m suggesting that we speak the truth of scripture over them. For example:

            They’re not perfect, but they are chosen.
            They’ll make mistakes, but in Christ, they are redeemed.
            They are beloved children of the King of kings.
            Sin has no hold on them by the blood of Jesus.
            Their actions don’t define them – the Word of God does.

When criticism comes their way, as it surely will, we moms can teach our kids to

1) discern which parts of that criticism might be true (if any),

2) to seek the Lord in repentance and correction, and

3) to stand firm knowing that love covers a multitude of sins. Criticism or a label someone places on us does not affect who we are in Christ.

God’s grace is sufficient. This truth will not only help them stand firm against the schemes of the devil who wants them feeling worthless and alone, it will also help them speak encouragement into the lives of others.

What tools will you give to your child to navigate an unkind world and a relentless spiritual enemy? 

Your influence has the power to equip them for battle and help them resist the enemy so that he flees. Please don’t take it lightly.

Social media sharing is always nice, too. 🙂

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,

Psalm 119:28




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