If only you could read The Little Engine That Could to your child and he would miraculously adopt a positive, confident sense of self. But although self-esteem is one of the most important ingredients for a happy, successful life, we're not born with it and there's no magic pill to get it. We learn it, and you as a parent are a key factor in the process.

It's a daunting task, but follow in the tracks of that lovable locomotive—don't give up! Here's a few ideas to keep in your lock box when you feel like junior needs a boost in the self-esteem department:

  • Be positive with your child. Try to focus on what they do right, not what they do wrong. Be precise and detailed with your praise. Instead of “great job!” or “well done!” try to find the exact description of why you’re so proud. Say, “You’re playing so nicely with your brother!” or “You tried hard to fix that truck!”

  • Find things your child likes to do. If you notice your son is down on himself during soccer, but seems to relish doing crafts at home, sign him up for an arts class. Put him in situations or experiences that don’t set him up to fail.
  • Give your child responsibilities (but not out of the realm of his development). The more your child feels a sense of accomplishment, the more self-confidence he’ll have. Let him crack the egg into the bowl for the pancakes, or let him try to fold his own laundry. If he successfully accomplishes small tasks, he’ll take greater risks in trying others. Also, encourage your child to judge himself. Ask him how it made him feel when he tied his shoes all by himself. Help him understand that accomplishing a task feels good.
  • Spend time with your child. It’s a simple act, but it goes a long way in making him feel special and worthy. When you’re together, try to give him your full attention.

Remember to manage your expectations. Make sure they’re not unreasonable, based on your child’s development and personality. Sometimes the higher the standard we hold them to, the more they think they will fail. If you’re thoughtful and measured in the challenges you present your child, he will automatically switch on that voice inside that says, “I think I can.”