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Healthy Self-Esteem and Kids: Builders & Breakers

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

Building Self-Esteem

Building self-esteem — or a true sense of self– 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. While parents may try hard to build their child’s self-esteem, sometimes they inadvertently break it.

Parents may try to build their child's self-esteem, but sometimes they inadvertently break it. #fearlessfeeding #selfconfidence Click To Tweet

But building self-esteem isn’t straightforward, or simple. In fact, it’s complex. What helps one child grow confident may not help the next child. What seems to be true is that a myriad of positive and successful experiences help children internalize a sense of worthiness and purpose.

Nutrition is merely one vehicle for influencing self-esteem—let’s take a look!

A myriad of positive and successful experiences help children internalize a sense of worthiness and purpose. #self-esteem #builddon'tbreak Click To Tweet

Self-Esteem Builders

Your Feeding Style 

The authoritative feeding approach, 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 helps children learn to self-regulate their food intake and be capable with eating. Capability = confidence.

Kitchen Skills

Learning a skill helps all children become proficient, but also encourages industry and purpose, fostering 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, make breakfast, or assemble an after-school snack, and set and clear the table.

Not sure how to bring your child into the kitchen and cook? I like this kids cooking program from Kids Cook Real Food as it takes you step-by-step, with your child, through some essential kitchen skills.


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

Highlight Internal Characteristics

Our world is externally focused—beauty is skin deep, more so today than ever before. Many kids, by nature of 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, rather than focusing on how pretty she is, or how muscular he looks.

Self-Esteem Busters


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—its weight, shape, or size—it can change self-perception and damage self-esteem.

Passing Judgment

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. “You’re a picky eater” or “you’re uncoordinated” can be labels that turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, limiting what your child can achieve or do by squelching his belief in himself. Instead, praise your child’s effort.

Looking the Other Way

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.


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 body down in front of your child—he or she may internalize and adopt those negative feelings, too.

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…and 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 self-esteem builders or breakers would you add to this list?

*This post contains affiliate links. I only associate with products and programs I have vetted and believe in. If you click on a link and purchase a program, I will receive a small percentage of the sale, which helps me support this website. Thanks for your support!

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