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Self-Esteem for Kids: Build a Positive Self Image

Building self-esteem — or a true sense of self worth– is something we all want for our children. After all, a hearty and healthy self-esteem helps our kids weather the storm of growing up in a competitive, sometimes heartless world.

Although parents may try hard to build their child’s self-esteem, sometimes they unknowingly break it.

Building a healthy sense of self isn’t straightforward, or simple. In fact, it’s complex. What helps one child grow confidence may not help the next child.

In this article, I’ll take a look at the things you can do to help build self-esteem and the things to avoid.

Nutrition is one vehicle for influencing a positive self image—let’s take a look!

Self-esteem: Tips for parents on how to build it and avoid breaking it.

What are the Self-Esteem Builders You Can Focus On?

What seems to be true is that a myriad of positive and successful experiences help children internalize a sense of worthiness and purpose.

Let’s explore what some of these areas include.

1. Your Feeding Style

The diplomatic feeding style, a warm and sensitive way to parent and feed children, places demands and expectations on the child using boundaries, structure and allowing reasonable choice.

This feeding approach focuses on trust between the parent and child, helping kids to stay attuned to their body signals for eating and stopping.

It’s really the one style of feeding that capitalizes on self-awareness, trust in one’s body, and promotion of self-regulated food intake.

When kids feel capable with eating they are more confident.

Do you know what your feeding style is? Learn about food parenting and how it can help you be a better feeder.

child with hand in mouth

2. Encourage Your Child to Develop Kitchen Skills

Learning a skill helps all children become proficient, but it also encourages industry and purpose, which fosters the development of self-esteem.

Great ways to do this in the kitchen include:

  • letting your child partake in cooking,
  • planting and caring for a garden,
  • allowing your child to pack his lunch,
  • letting your child make breakfast,
  • putting your child in charge of assembling an after-school snack, and
  • accountability for setting and clearing the table.

Not sure how to bring your child into the kitchen and cook?

Check out my Nutrition Store for kids cookbooks to spur some ideas.

Check out my podcast interview with the author of PREP: The Essential College Cookbook.

Katie outlines some simple recipes for newly graduated young adults.

3. Encourage Your Child to Stick with It

Encouraging your child to stick with a difficult task, while demonstrating faith in his capabilities with your words may help children muster stick-to-it-ness, or perseverance.

Achieving completion or success when difficulties arise translates to self-efficacy—a belief in one’s abilities.

This can lead to better self-esteem.

False praise, while it might feel good to give, doesn’t do much to instill self-confidence, and may even erode it.

4. Highlight Your Child’s Internal Characteristics

Our world is externally focused—beauty is skin deep, more so today than ever before.

Many kids, due to their developmental stage, will compare themselves to peers, celebrities or other unattainable ideals.

Work hard to instill and highlight your child’s internal qualities, such as his or her loyalty to friends, his sense of justice, or her honesty.

Steer clear of focusing on how pretty she is, or how muscular he looks.

Watch Out for Low Confidence and Self-Esteem Busters

Keep an eye out for habits or behaviors you’ve developed around your kids.

How do you speak to them? What tone you use when you ask your child to do something?

Do you tend to be critical or supportive?

1. Teasing May Tear at Your Child’s Self Worth

My dad always said that teasing was a form of affection—and for me, it was.

But it isn’t for everyone.

In fact, it can be quite hurtful.

Teasing can easily be a form of bullying and when it targets the body (also known as fat shaming)—its weight, shape, or size—it can change self-perception and damage a child’s self-esteem.

2. Passing Judgment on Eating Choices or Habits

We all do it. Even in the simplest ways—liking this and not liking that.

The trouble with passing judgment, particularly in the realm of eating, is it may lead a child to believe the judgment is placed on him.

Especially if we use labels.

“You’re a picky eater” or “you’re uncoordinated” can be identifiers that turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, limiting what your child can achieve or do.

Instead of squelching his belief in himself, praise your child’s effort.

girl sitting on a stoop covering her face

3. Ignoring a Child’s Concerns or Self-Doubt

All kids have worries or concerns at one point or another. A friend and colleague, who is a therapist, says never disregard a concern that comes up more than once.

We all waiver in our confidence—even as parents!—and often all we need to hear is, “You’re doing a great job!” to calm our concerns.

If your child has recurrent concerns or worries, especially about weight, don’t brush them off. Instead, open up a conversation (without judgment) and help your child work through them.

Ignoring may invalidate your child and his worries.

4. Self Deprecating Comments

Self-deprecation can be a funny thing among adults, but when it comes to putting yourself down in front of your child, research says it’s not a good idea.

Even though you may “feel fat,” your child sees you as her everything.

Don’t put yourself or your own body down in front of your child—he or she may internalize and adopt those negative feelings, too.

Chart of self esteem for kids: builders and breakers

5. The Pressure to be Perfect

My, don’t we all want to be perfect—in some way, shape or form?

But, nobody is perfect.

So, piling on the pressure to get our kids to be perfect may strip them of their worthiness and confidence, or worse, spiral them into perfectionistic thinking.

This thinking can tie into disordered eating and an eating disorder.

Think about it—kids aren’t born knowing what to do, or how to behave, or eat, for that matter!

They are learning.

In the process, kids can be quite messy and make mistakes. Take those mistakes in stride and nix the pressure on your child to act like an adult.

Allow mess with eating, mistakes with cooking, and recognize that there’s plenty of time to learn and blossom into the person they are meant to be.

Tell me, what are your doing to build self-esteem for kids?

This was originally published in April 2015 |Updated on January 22, 2021

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