The Montfort Group

Combatting Low Self-Esteem In Children


Okay ya’ll, sit down and buckle up because after working at the Eating Recovery Center, I have a lot to say to (hopefully) help avoid low self-esteem in children.

How many of you are 100% satisfied with your body? I’m not sure I’ve ever met any human who liked every single thing about their appearance. Have you? Regardless, with social media on the consistent incline, it is imperative we, as adults and parents, do what we can to increase self-confidence and be able to model what it’s like to love yourself since we can’t control everything they see on their iPhone 8+.

Intervene Early

Start talking about what it means to be healthy. And I’m not talking about being “thin” or “fit” as that is not the definition of healthy. Though our society may appear to think otherwise. We are not all intended to look the same. What I’m saying is keeping your heart and other internal organs healthy by eating appropriate amounts (and giving in to cravings or body cues when you’re “feeling it”- anything in moderation is OKAY) and exercising to help your heart, lungs, and to release endorphins as opposed to working out to lose weight.

So often, I hear patients tell me how their eating disorder began. “I was in health class and my teacher categorized healthy and unhealthy foods. That’s when I started restricting.” The teachers don’t have ill intent, but we live in a society where we are constantly comparing ourselves. Where we will do what it takes to be the best or look the best to receive the external validation we all seek to some degree.             

But  when  does  it  stop?

Encouragement vs Praise

This might be the most important of them all. Learning to encourage children’s efforts as opposed to praising them. Making statements such as “I’m so proud of you” (praise) unintentionally teaches us to evaluate our worth based on other people’s perceptions. Statements such as “you did it!” or “you worked so hard” address the effort THEY put into their work; it allows for self-evaluation and self-reflection. 

As a parent, this is likely especially difficult. Of course, it’s okay to tell your children you’re proud of them sometimes

This goes back to the external validation aforementioned above. We should care more about the opinion we have of ourselves than that of others. We deserve to do things for ourselves, to make ourselves proud, and most of all, to love ourselves.

For more in-depth information on this, Nurture Shock, Chapter 1 by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman (read the whole book- eye-opening)

Don’t Talk Negatively About Your Body

I remember when I was younger, women in my family would make statements about how _____  (fat, ugly, bad) they looked when getting dressed, going shopping/trying on clothes, or looking at photos of themselves. They never spoke negatively about my body but is it ever okay to talk about yourself in this manner? And what does it teach our children about self-esteem when we talk about ourselves like this? 

Are you someone who says these things about yourself out loud? If so, when you think about it, do you remember your mom, friend, or older sibling making comments such as these? I don’t usually do this… but I’m going to go ahead and make an assumption that the answer is yes.  We learn this behavior by hearing other people degrade themselves in this way. 

Give Gratitude To Your Body

Sounds silly, right? But saying things like:

-I’m thankful for my feet because they allowed me to drive today

-I’m thankful for my hands because I had the ability to take my math test

-I’m thankful for my eyes because I got to see the Grand Canyon

-I’m thankful for my ears because I can hear the water hit the ground and that helps me sleep

You don’t have to like everything about your body. Give yourself grace and gratitude for all of the things your body IS capable of. 

Accept Compliments

Learn how to take a compliment without feeling like you have to give a compliment back. When did it become so uncomfortable for people to say nice things about us?

Learn to love yourself. If you can conquer that, I think your kids can too.


Picture of Courtney Strull, MS, LPC

Courtney Strull, MS, LPC

I attended The University of Texas in Austin where I majored in Psychology and minored in Sociology. During my undergraduate coursework, I did research under Dr. Rebecca Bigler, where I studied gender and racial attitudes among children. Upon competition of my undergraduate degree, I moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University’s Master of Science in Counseling program and completed all the training to become a Licensed Professional Counselor.

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