“Self-esteem” is one of the buzzwords of modern parenting, tossed about as a panacea for everything from sexual promiscuity to teen suicide. Unlike tetanus shots and spanking, however, it isn’t an either/or proposition: parents begin nurturing their children’s self-esteem at birth, and it ebbs and flows over time. Still, fifth grade is a great stage to focus on self-esteem. "Children in fourth, fifth, and early sixth grade are beginning to try to figure out where they 'fit-in,' and parents, teachers, and peers begin to put restrictions on them to, as they perceive it, help them to fit in," say Valerie Krahe and Cynthia Gannon of Confidence Coaching, LLC.

Both boys and girls struggle with self-esteem, but they face different challenges. Here's what to keep in mind if you're the parent of a fifth grade boy:

  • Physical ability and size play a large part in the self-esteem of young boys, and up to age 14 they develop at such varying rates that their coordination and athletic prowess can be quite disparate,” says Adelaide Zindler, author of Fearless Parenting.

  • Boys who are small or nonathletic face teasing from their peers. If that’s the case with your son, seek out activities where he can excel. Zindler suggests track and field as a sport where boys can set “personal best” goals rather than entering competitions they can’t win.

  • Don’t be tempted to force your square peg into a round hole. Boys who don’t fit the traditional masculine mold, either because they are sensitive or beginning to question their sexual orientation, face extra challenges. While our society, like fifth grade, is a competitive place, remind your son that adults who know who they are and are true to themselves will usually find a spot.

Like boys, fifth grade girls run into gender expectations that can affect their self-esteem. Here's what to look out for in your fifth grade girl:

  • Physical appearance is paramount for fifth grade girls, and girls whose bodies develop either before or after their peers can become very self-conscious.

  • Don’t rely on classroom sex ed; make sure your daughter knows what the changes in her body mean, and remind her that the transitions she's going are is the normal and mean that she is growing up.

  • Girls are this age are constantly judging and being judged by others. For example, athletic girls who played happily with boys in fourth grade may find themselves judged harshly for doing so in fifth. Even if your daughter is hurt by the criticisms of others, it's probable that she has also been doling out the damage. Remind her that other people have feelings too, and be sure to model empathy in the suffering of others.

Whether you have a fifth grade son or daughter, it’s important to remain supportive and listen. Remind your child that, no matter what her peers say, character counts more than appearance and popularity.