Children develop beliefs about themselves through their relationships with parents and other relatives, teachers and peers. Parents play a fundamental role in this process, and early efforts to build a child’s self-confidence can pay off later in a better relationship (and more parental influence) during adolescence.

Maintain realistic expectations

• Match your expectations to the child’s developmental abilities and possible disabilities. For example, not all five-year-olds can tie their shoes.

• Re-evaluate expectations if you find yourself frequently feeling “let down” or believe that your child “should” be doing things that they are not doing. Consider whether the problem is a “can’t” or a “won’t.”

• When disabilities exist, avoid using language that labels the disability as unchangeable. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re just not good at reading” say something like, “Sounding out those words was hard” and work with your child to build their reading skills.

Catch your child being good to promote positive behaviors

• Provide specific and accurate praise to demonstrate that you appreciate and value initiative, effort or persistence.

• Provide encouragement and then make it safe to learn from mistakes.

• Avoid excessive praise and flattery. This raises self-doubts and sets unrealistic expectations, which in turn might undermine your child’s coping efforts.

Validate your child’s needs, feelings, ideas and interests

• Tell your child that their needs and feelings are important.

• Help your child find acceptable means to express their feelings and opinions.

• Empathize with your child and show interest in their views and opinions. You don’t have to agree!

• Simply express appreciation for their idea and their effort to think through a situation.

• Avoid teasing or mocking what you consider to be “silly” ideas.

• Attend events or join your child in activities that they enjoy.

Encourage activities that promote feelings of mastery

• Give your child real responsibilities appropriate to their age and allow them to make choices. For instance, encourage your four-year-old to participate in decision-making about dressing herself by giving her the choice of two or three outfits (rather than directing her to choose from the whole closet).

• Use challenges as opportunities for your child to develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills. • Be available to coach, but allow children to work out their own solution.

• Avoid being overprotective as this undermines your child’s confidence and keeps them from learning problem-solving and decision-making skills.

• Demonstrate faith in your child’s abilities, including the ability to handle disappointments. For example, say something like, “Uggg! That didn’t work out like you expected. What are you going to do?” Then listen well and be encouraging.

• Expect positive outcomes while also sending the message that it is okay to try something and fail. When necessary, help your child cope with defeat by providing unconditional love and support.